Home > Uncategorized > DEP Data Show That 20 – 40% of Hopewell Drinking Water Wells Exceed Arsenic Standard

DEP Data Show That 20 – 40% of Hopewell Drinking Water Wells Exceed Arsenic Standard

Pipeline Debate Brings Focus To Longstanding Health Threat

Hypocrisy in Hopewell

Source: NJ DEP Private Well Testing Act data - red is 20-40% of wells exceeding standard, dark red more than 40%.

Source: NJ DEP Private Well Testing Act data – red is 20-40% of wells exceeding standard, dark red more than 40%.

[Important Update Below]

I don’t recall widespread attention given to the serious health risks of high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in private homeowner drinking water wells in upscale Hopewell Township [Full disclosure: I am a former resident whose kids went through Hopewell schools.]

I don’t recall action by the Board of Health or Resolutions by the Township Committee warning residents of those risks and urging that they immediately install treatment systems.

The most I could find was this short & vague advisory buried on the Township website – with no links to actual data or health science on risks.

Similarly, the DEP has posted this Homeowner’s Guide, but not given the issue much public education, media, or regulatory attention (for example, compared to indoor radon risks, another naturally occurring risk.

In fact, the whole issue of private wells tends to be swept under the rug – DEP has not published Private Well Testing Act statewide data in a consolidated Report for over 6 years. Instead, DEP buries the data on a website page in limited county and municipal formats (e.g. see Mercer and Hopewell data).

I don’t recall residents turing out in droves at public meetings demanding that the risks be reduced.

I don’t recall local and national media expressing any interest in the risks of arsenic in drinking water wells there.

I don’t recall residents concerned about the impacts of the arsenic on their children, their pets, their farm animals, and their property values.

I don’t recall Stonybrook Watershed or local professors with expertise issuing sworn testimony and making public statements in support of local Resolutions urging action.

Just the opposite – I recall local officials downplaying the risks of arsenic, opposing the costs of treating drinking water to meet the standard, and even drafting a Resolution opposing a DEP permit condition to reduce arsenic discharge to the Stony Brook, a stream hydrologically connected to Pennington’s water supply well.

So, with that history and context, I was stunned by the sudden emergence of arsenic risks as a major issue in Hopewell, with so many people so focused on arsenic and wells, including national coverage in today’s Huffington Post.

Ironically that HuffPo story confirmed exactly the concerns I raised recently about flaws in the strategy and tactics of anti-pipeline advocacy groups in these two posts:

But aside from pipeline issues – and the fact that the various groups and individuals involved in the PennEast battle have expressed no concern for the drinking water risks of millions of their fellow NJ residents –  here’s the hypocrisy on the long ignored local Hopewell arsenic issue and : (HuffPo  story)

“The proposed pipeline route crosses every aquifer recharge zone that provides drinking water to local communities and every wetland that discharges water into the Delaware Raritan Canal,” said Onstott.

“These fractured rock aquifers,” he added, “are the sole source of water for the wells of hundreds of communities and farms. The aquifers are extremely sensitive to this type of construction because the six feet deep trench exposes the rock formation to air releasing the arsenic into the shallow water table. Even worse during the pipeline’s operation, methane leakage and the current from its cathodic shield will continue to mobilize arsenic for decades to come. There is not that much groundwater here to begin with, and the rainfall in this part of the world is not that great either. Dilution of this arsenic from fresh water recharge will be limited.”

He concluded that, “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Pipelines Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) need to be made aware that certain types of hydro-geological conditions make large-scale natural gas pipelines fundamentally incompatible with the safety of the communities living near them and high arsenic fractured bedrock is one of them.”

“Why?” he asked, “would the PennEast consortium risk the drinking water for thousands of people? They would have had to have been blind not to know this before they proposed their route.”

Yes, why would anyone risk the quality of the drinking water for thousands of people?

How many Hopewell homeowners have installed treatment systems for arsenic?

How many get involved in protecting drinking water as aggressively as their own private property rights and land values?

Ironically, DEP Commissioner Martin, who could KILL the PennEast pipeline by denying a DEP water quality certification, lives in Hopewell. Maybe they can reach out to him and ask about DEP’s powers under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.

[Update 8/19/15 –  I want to include this exchange from a friend who criticizes this post. I’ve redacted the names of individuals, because they are not relevant to the discussion. I figure publishing this will lose me another friend,…

Just saw your Hopewell hypocrisy thing. Wish you would hold your fire sometimes till you knew more. PennEast will take anything you say and throw it back. Working backwards: I don’t THINK Bob Martin has been in Hopewell for ages he’s divorced with a new wife. I think he’s gone underground. Second the Hopewell professor is not a local professor he happens to live in Hunterdon and doesn’t even live on PennEast route but he is very interested in some the geochemical reactions and cares about the area and his neighbors. He flagged this with FERC last fall. Not many were interested until he started to discuss it.  He has an unusual angle. Heard quite a discussion about it last night up north. It’s not the traditional Hopewell players who are speaking up. If you saw some of the latest submissions you would see that NJCF really laid serious groundwork for water quality certificate. Just the way XXXXXXX did. And quiet XXXXXX. Heavy hitters are working hard and quietly behind the scenes. Don’t want to piss off Martin right now. Many do know the water quality certificate is important or even a dealbreaker. There is such an uphill battle that everything is needed if we have any hopes of stopping this. The blocking of surveys is having some effect. There is real question as to how far PennEast can go with incomplete application. Not being naïve.

My response:

The people and organizations I criticized do virtually nothing to protect drinking water in NJ – the fact that they latched on to the arsenic thing is opportunistic and cynical.
Ditto the Category One stream issue. Hopewell officials did not support DEP’s efforts to designate Hopewell Delaware tribe as C1 back in 2002-2003. COnservation groups have not lifted a finger as the C1 program is being dismantled right now by DEP.
The professor lives in Hunterdon – that is LOCAL. I didn’t claim he was from Hopewell, I said he was local.
I don’t care about Bob Martin’s private life or if he gets pissed off.
There is no strategic value in keeping anything quiet in fear that PennEast will use it against you – that’s a traditional excuse from leaders who like to work behind closed doors, don’t like to criticize public officials publicly, and don’t tolerate democratic dialogue and criticism.
PennEast knows the issues and your tactics thoroughly – they’ve done this everywhere. They have lawyers, lobbyists, PR flacks et al that are far better qualified than the environmental group leaders you rely on for strategic guidance. There are no secrets.
Real “heavy hitters” get their weight from working openly and publicly, and building democratic legitimacy, not by hiding behind the scenes. I have no use for that kind of tactic. Environmental leaders complain about the lack of transparency in government and then they replicate those flaws? That is BS in my book.
FERC will rubber stamp even an “incomplete’ PennEast application and environmental review.
DEP will not deny state permits for lack of technical information in the wake of a FERC approval.
You can bet on that.
Private property rights won’t prevail either.
No movement can be successful if they make alliances with and adopt the tactics of groups with antiethical interests.
Farmers don’t give a crap about water quality.
Private landowners have no use for the kind of regulatory power at DEP required to block this p[ipeline.
Conservation groups are land trusts frost and foremost, and will never alienate landowners, farmers, government regulators, foundations and their Republican and corporate boards who call the shots.
I don’t know too little – I know too much.

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