Home > Uncategorized > NJ Drinking Water Institute Reconvenes After Spending Nearly 4 Years Banished to the Christie Regulatory Wilderness

NJ Drinking Water Institute Reconvenes After Spending Nearly 4 Years Banished to the Christie Regulatory Wilderness

[Important update in text below: 5/2/14]

Update: 4/30/14Philadelphia Inquirer story: NJ water quality panel ends long hiatus:

“It’s good to have them back,” said Bill Wolfe, a former DEP official and director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

But from the meeting’s start, he and other advocates made clear that they would give the panel close scrutiny, fearing that industry and special interest groups would wield undue influence on its proceedings and that it would be slow to set certain maximum contaminant levels. […]

Wolfe challenged the institute to push to require such treatments throughout the state, saying they could also help remove other emerging and potentially dangerous contaminants. ~~~ end update]

The NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI) met today after almost 4 years of forced silence (see agenda).

We will post the minutes and the presentations today when they become available on DEP website.

[Update: 5/1/14 – The presentation on PFC’s by DEP scientist Gloria Post, PhD was just posted at DEP website.

The Final Report on Occurrence of PFOA in drinking water (aka as “the 2009 Report”) was just posted. It had been withheld by DEP for years, so perhaps the worm is turning?

Aside from the occurrence data, I’ll highlight this from the Report (@ p.2)

PFCs are removed from drinking water by granular activated carbon and reverse osmosis (Rahman et al., 2014), while the standard treatment processes used at the sites included in the 2006 and 2009 studies do not effectively remove PFCs. Data on PFCs in raw and finished water from several sites included in the 2006 and 2009 studies confirms that PFC concentrations are generally not decreased in the finished water (Post et al., 2009, Post et al., 2013b). …

In addition, to better understand treatment options available for the removal of unregulated organic contaminants, the Department is studying the effectiveness of granular activated carbon (GAC) removal technology in removing unregulated contaminants, including PFOA and PFOS, in pilot studies at two water systems that use groundwater: Fair Lawn Water Department (Bergen County) and Merchantville-Pennsauken Water Commission (Camden County). These pilot studies are currently ongoing.

The DEP should immediately finalize those pilot studies and begin mandating GAC at targeted systems with high vulnerability to contamination by unregulated organic chemicals.  – end update]

The last time the DWQI met was on September 10, 2010.

At that meeting, the Health Effects Subcommittee made recommendations involved in setting strict new drinking water regulations for two toxic chemicals  – i.e. PFOA and hexavalent chromium – strongly opposed by the NJ Chemistry Council and other politically powerful NJ polluters, like Dupont.

(for my take on that meeting, see: Total Collapse at the NJ Drinking Water Quality institute).

(for additional analysis, also see a followup post: Running the Regulatory Gauntlet – A Dispatch From the Weeds).

After that September 2010 meeting, DEP Commissioner Martin prohibited the DWQI from meeting – banished  to the regulatory wilderness – and totally ignored prior DWQI recommendations for DEP to update and develop dozens of more protective MCL’s.

Since then, there has been little doubt that Martin’s meeting ban was driven by strong chemical industry opposition.

Today, DEP staff confirmed that Commissioner Martin was concerned about the so called “impacts” of the DWQI’s recommendations – that’s bureaucratic code for industry compliance cost and ratepayer impacts.

DEP staff also stated that they were currently conducting “cost benefit analysis” on prior science and health based DWQI MCL recommendations for 2 contaminants, radon -222 (February 2009) and 1,2,3 trichloropropane (March 2009)

Today’s meeting had a celebratory vibe, sort of like a family reunion of drinking water professionals – the room was packed with a dozen or so former and current professionals involved with the work of the DWQI.

The media was there as well as a result of the huge south jersey controversy over drinking water wells contaminated with a class of chemicals  called PFC’s, for “Perfluorinated chemicals”. PFC’s are not removed by conventional drinking water treatment plants.

Paulsboro has the highest levels (150 ppt, PFNA) of these chemicals detected in drinking water in the world. That level is 7.5 TIMES higher than DEP’s health based Guidance Value of 20 ppt for PFNA.

A DEP pilot study found that PFC’s could be removed by granular activated carbon (GAC) treatment systems to non-detectable levels. [Clarification – GAC treatment is installed at NJ American Logan plant and being installed at Pennsgrove, it is not a pilot study.]

Based upon that pilot study [NJ American plant data], the DWQI should immediately recommend that DEP impose treatment requirements mandating GAC for public water systems where PFC’s have been detected.

In addition to the south jersey PFC controversy in Paulsboro and other Gloucester County towns, we assume media will focus on Commissioner Martin’s letter to the DWQI, tasking them with developing work plans for the development of drinking water standards (MCL’s) for 3 PFC chemicals. So, I’ll mention a few significant points likely to stay below the media radar:

1. Attempt to limit public involvement to science, and discourage comment on policy or regulation

New Chairman Dr. Keith Cooper of Rutgers started off on the wrong foot –

Aside from forgetting to introduce all the new DWQI members, he immediately said he would focus the DWQI deliberations solely on science and data, not policy. He then said he would be strict in not allowing the public to discuss policy either, pleading to “strictly require that policy stay somewhere else”.

I called him out on that, saying that his attempt to wall off the science from the policy debate and regulatory context was at best naive, and at worst an abdication of professional responsibility and an attempt to limit public discussion.

Cooper assured me that he was not naive and that was not his intention. We will see.

[Note: I see that Dr. Cooper has research interests in ecotoxicology. I wonder if he is aware of the inside story on DEP’s proposal, and subsequent withdrawal, of wildlife based water quality standards, due to opposition by the NJ Chemistry Council. See the Chemistry Council’s letter to DEP that proves this back door abuse. For all the other documents, EPA, DEP, Chemistry Council’s powerpoint, et al, see this, where we tell the full story.]

2. Cover story for why DWQI didn’t meet in 4 years

The new Chairman, Dr. Keith Cooper from Rutgers, was asked point blank by Tracy Carlucchio of Delaware Riverkeeper why the DWQI had not met in 4 years.

Cooper explained the Christie Administration’s cover story, which is that:1) the Christie Administration was trying to get new members appointed and 2) environmental disasters like hurricanes Irene and Sandy diverted DEP staff.

He didn’t fool anyone and in the process sullied his reputation.

3. New industry friendly process for input to DWQI deliberations compounds flaws in DEP Stakeholder process

Chairman Cooper and a DEP staffer vaguely outlined what they called a “new process for public input”. Cooper indicated that this would include new procedures for the various Subcommittees to invite expert technical input. This input would not be a matter of public record.

Cooper did not present any transparency, accountability, scientific integrity,or ethical safeguards on this new process, such as controls over scientific bias, ethical conflict of interest, or abject lobbying under the guise of scientific deliberation. (see: Should the Chemical Indsutry Have A Role in Setting Your Drinking Water Standards?)

Cooper rejected my request that he do so, modeled on Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) restrictions.

As I previously wrote about scientific integrity at DEP’s Science Advisory Board and recommended to Commissioner Martin regarding regulated industry influence on DEP, those FACA like safeguards are essential:

In light of this episode, I ask for your support towards reforms to make all DEP advisory group deliberations are open and accessible to the public, transparent, accountable, objective, and subject to ethical standards, as provided by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

I strongly suspect that the new process is a back door for industry pseudo-science by hired guns and related political opposition to the DWQI work.

The DWQI’s new processes would be in addition to DEP’s by invitation only “Stakeholder processes” prior to regulatory proposal pursuant to Gov. Christie’s Executive Order #2.

The policy objective of these pre-proposal “Stakeholder” review procedures mandated by EO #2 is based on the false premise that:

New Jersey’s ability to leverage these assets to produce growth and opportunity is being challenged by chronically high costs and regulatory burdens that have resulted in New Jersey’s consistently low rankings nationally on regulatory burdens, costs-of-doing business and similar such economic measures making New Jersey the worst business climate in the nation;

To remedy that false premise, the policy objective of “Stakeholder” pre-proposal review is to provide “immediate regulatory relief”:

For immediate relief from regulatory burdens, State agencies shall:

a. Engage in the “advance notice of rules” by soliciting the advice and views of knowledgeable persons from outside of New Jersey State government, including the private sector and academia, in advance of any rulemaking to provide valuable insights on the proposed rules, and to prevent unworkable, overly-proscriptive (sic) or ill-advised rules from being adopted. 

The NJ Chemistry Council and powerful polluters with billions of dollars at stake like the Dupont corporation want “immediately regulatory relief” and think many DWQI recommendations amount to “unworkable, overly-proscriptive (sic) or ill-advised” support for DEP regulations.

The alleged rationale for the new DWQI process was to promote transparency and openness. I don’t buy it.

4. New emphasis on “cost benefit analysis” is inappropriate and illegal

Twice, DEP staff stated that DEP was considering economic costs and was conducting cost benefit analysis.

This is not authorized by the NJ SAfe Drinking Water Act. Under that Act, DEP must based MCL decisions on 3 factors – medical, scientific and technological feasibility – all of which are based in science and engineering, not economics and cost-benefit analysis based regulatory frameworks.

5. A huge backlog of prior DWQI recommendations for updating MCL standards for dozens of chemicals is being ignored

I was present and spoke at the last prior meeting back on September 10, 2010. Here’s what I said:

I also blasted the DWQI for failing to hold DEP accountable for not implementing several prior DWQI recommended standards (known as MCL’s for “Maximum Contaminant Levels”) for numerous toxic chemicals, including:

All of the prior DWQI MCL recommendations, and the DEP White Paper on Unregulated Contaminants are being ignored and swept under the rug.

That is an unacceptable outrage that I challenged the new DWQI member to respond to.

6. Failure to take a precautionary approach to unregulated chemicals, based on best available technology

In addition to the pilot GAC study for PFC’s in south jersey, there are many other public water supply systems that should be required to install GAC in addition to conventional treatment to remove hundreds of chemicals known to be present in drinking water coming out the tap (see bullet #4 above).

Even the USEPA has recognized limitations to the current chemical specific approach to regulating drinking water quality  – to address chemicals as groups, rather than 1 at a time – and the benefits of a different and precautionary framework, see: Drinking Water Strategy).

DEP scientists were ahead of this curve years ago – the DWQI must remain engaged in this policy and regulatory debate.

We’ll keep you posted, but don’t hold your breath –  the next meeting of the DWQI isn’t until September.

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