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NJ Senate Takes First Step In Addressing Christie DEP Neglect of Drinking Water Protections

A Lot of Work To Do After 7 Years of “Malfeasance”

The Senate Environment Committee released a bill (S-2468) to mandate DEP adopt the scientific recommendations of the Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI) on public health based drinking water “Maximum Contaminant Levels” ( MCLs), see the NJ Spotlight story:

I’ve been writing about and working on this issue for years, so it is heartening to see the bill move, but passage is questionable and Gov. Christie’s veto is certain. An over-ride is very unlikely.

Incredibly, to give you a sense of how egregious the DEP’s neglect has been, even conservative anti-regulatory Ocean County Republican and Christie loyalist Senator Thompson voted for the bill!


Bill Wolfe, a former DEP staffer who now monitors the department’s work on water quality, called the PFNA case “just the tip of the iceberg of neglect” by the DEP that he said did not adopt the DWQI’s recommendations for MCLs on a number of other chemicals that were under consideration before a four-year hiatus in the panel’s work starting in 2010.

“The Christie DEP has abdicated the DEP’s regulatory role in protecting public health and the environment — whether via failure to adopt standards or failure to monitor and enforce them,” Wolfe said.

This shameful legacy of Gov. Chris Christie and his DEP Commissioner Bob Martin will have to wait until the next administration to repair.

To begin to get a real drinking water protection reform agenda on the radar, I sent the sponsor Senator Lesniak and Chairman Smith the following note:

Dear Senators:

Thanks for for sponsoring and moving S2468, to mandate that DEP adopt MCL’s recommended by the Drinking Water Quality Institute.

I would like to suggest 3 amendments to perfect the bill and avoid this DEP politicization of science and abuse of discretion in the future.

The first amendment would be prospective in nature, such that whenever the DWQI recommended an MCL, DEP would be required to adopt it, just like the backlogged chemicals listed in the bill.

This would permanently eliminate political considerations from delaying MCL’s, ignoring science, and abdicating the DEP’s responsibility to protect public health.

The second amendment would incorporate all existing DEP groundwater quality standards that are based on the science of human health impacts, including “interim specific groundwater quality standards” (ISGWQS).

These DEP groundwater quality standards are just as scientifically rigorous as the MCL’s recommended by the DWQI and adopted by DEP. They are often developed by the same DEP scientists who staff the DWQI. The legal and scientific bases between and GWQS and an MCL are different, but not in conflict.

A good example of this problem is the recent discovery of 1,4,-dioxane at the Ringwood Superfund site, Pompton Lakes drinking water, and numerous public water supplies in north jersey.

The DEP has adopted an ISGWQS for 1,4,-dioxane of 0.4 ug/L (parts per billion). Yet that standard is being ignored in site remediation cleanup decisions and local drinking water treatment and public disclosure requirements for MCL’s.

I wrote about that issue here, and provide links to all the regulatory documents:

The third amendment – significantly broader in scope than the current bill – would require that DEP prepare a Report and hold at least 6 public hearings across the State regarding a strategy to address the more than 500 unregulated contaminants DEP has found in NJ drinking water supplies.

Developing a regulatory strategy to address the unregulated contaminant issue via a “treatment based approach” was a significant policy reform initiative of the Corzine DEP.

Here is the DEP Report that addresses those issues. The Report was prepared by DEP scientists who staff the DWQI and submitted to the DWQI back in 2010, but it was derailed by the Christie Administration, see:

Investigations Related to a “Treatment-Based” Regulatory Approach  to Address Unregulated Contaminants in Drinking Water

I am copying DWQI Chairman Dr. Keith Cooper of Rutgers so you can solicit his scientific expertise and input.

I appreciate your timely and favorable consideration – apologies for being unable to appear to testify on these issues yesterday.

Bill Wolfe

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