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DEP Has Not Reported Residential Drinking Water Well Data for Over 5 Years

How Safe is Your Drinking Water? Don’t Ask DEP

Thousands of wells sampled – over 12% found polluted and unsafe (source: NJDEP)

What You Don’t Know Can Kill You

[Update below]

This is the second issue we explore in the clean water series.

If you live in one of the more than 400,000 NJ homes that get drinking water from a private well, the odds are about 1 in 8 that your water is unsafe to drink.

Let’s repeat that: if your water comes from a private well, the odds are 1 in 8 that it is polluted and unsafe to drink.

That shocking statistic was reported by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) in a 2007 Report of data collected under a 2001 law known as the Private Well Testing Act.

If your neighbor’s well – located close to your well – is contaminated, you probably don’t know about it, because the law does not require public disclosure or adjacent landowner notice. In fact, the information is confidential. DEP lays out what happens after contamination is discovered:

Once the local health authority is notified electronically by NJDEP or directly by the laboratory, the health authorities may (but are not required to) notify property owners within the vicinity of the failing well. However, because these individual tests are considered confidential, the exact location of the well test failure cannot be identified. 

Since that 2007 Report,  the DEP has not publicly reported the results of testing of private drinking water wells for over 5 years.

After the law was passed in 2001, the initial PWTA Report was issued in 2004, and the second 3 years later in 2007. As the program matures, reporting frequency should increase, annual Reports should be the norm. So, what explains the 5 + year delay?

All this is scandalous, no?

The most recent DEP report was issued for data collected from from September 2002 through April 2007, over 5 years ago.

This DEP failure to report actual drinking water well data comes at a time when DEP’s DrinkingWater Quality Institute – which sets safe drinking water standards – has not met for over 20 months and DEP has failed to enact updated drinking water standards to reflect current science recommended by the DWQI for more than 30 chemicals, including:

  • formaldehyde; methyl ethyl ketone; benzene; vinyl chloride;
  • radioactive compounds radium and uranium
  • perchlorate (found in rocket fuel and explosive)

One of the most worrisome findings of the DWQI was the need to enact new very strict limits on highly toxic contaminants, such as 1,2,3- trichloropropane, about which the DWQI stated:

“1,2,3-TCP is DNA-reactive, clearly genotoxic and mutagenic, caused tumors in a number of tissues in both the rat and the mouse, and metastatic forestomach tumors were found in variety of locations.”

So, the odds are actually greater than 1 in 8 that unsafe pollutants are in your well water and flowing out the tap in your kitchen sink.

But it is not only the quality of drinking water that is of concern.

Similar management failures at DEP involve the quantity of drinking water.

The legislative mandated Statewide Water Supply Master Plan Update is many years overdue – thecurrent plan was adopted in 1996, and is based on data even older than that.

As a result of DEP inaction, the public is in the left in the dark regarding the safety of drinking water and quality and quantity of public water supplies.

According to DEP scientists, the Private well Testing Act:

In March 2001, the New Jersey Private Well Testing Act (PWTA) was signed into law, and its regulations became effective in September 2002. The PWTA is a consumer information law that requires sellers (or buyers) of property with wells in NJ to test the untreated ground water for a variety of water quality parameters, including 32 of human health concern, and to review the test results prior to closing of title.  …

New Jersey (NJ) is the most densely populated state in the U.S. It is estimated that over 85% of NJ’s 8,700,000 residents (2007 census estimate) obtain their drinking water from public water systems. The potable quality of the water derived from these systems is assured through a variety of federal and state drinking water regulations. There are no federal regulations assuring the quality of the water consumed by the population who obtain their drinking water from private wells, either in single residences or multiple unit buildings.

Over the years, a number of contamination events have occurred in private wells throughout the state. As a result of these events, in 2000 legislation was proposed to assure the quality of water drawn from private wells. On March 23, 2001, the New Jersey Private Well Testing Act (PWTA) was signed into law (NJSA, 2001) and its regulations became effective September 16, 2002 (NJ Reg, 2002). One county in NJ (Ocean) had a private well test program in place prior to passage of the statewide PWTA. That program was begun in 1987.

We have written about the alarming results of prior DEP Private Well Testing Act Reports (see:

We have also tried to warn the public about DEP’s failure to update numerous drinking water standards and the collapse of the Drinking Water Quality Institute (see:

What will it take to get DEP to do its job to set science based drinking water standards and provide current data to homeowners and consumers about the safety of  NJ’s drinking water ?

When will DEP:

  • allow the DWQI to meet;
  • upgrade drinking water standards as recommended by the DWQI;
  • adopt regulations on hundreds of chemicals known to be present in water supplies?
  • release the long awaited Water Supply Master Plan Update, which is years behind schedule?
  • Issue the latest Report of PWTA data?
  • Require state of the art treatment of all drinking water sources?

To paraphrase William Greider, Who will Tell The People?

When will reporters and legislators begin to ask DEP tough questions about these unprecedented failures to protect public health?

[Update]- DEP Managers must be reading Wolfenotes, because just 2 weeks after this post, Todd Bates reported that:

N.J. DEP provides detailed private well test results

Posted on June 14, 2012, by Todd B. Bates

The state Department of Environmental Protection just posted detailed results of private well testing in New Jersey.

This is not nearly the first time that Wolfenotes has had an impact on DEP action. End Update]

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