The safe levels of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), chemicals that may have seeped into the groundwater at dozens of active and closed military installations, may be lower than previously believed, according to a recommendation from a research panel of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The department’s Drinking Water Quality Institute last week recommended a limit of 14 parts per trillion of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), significantly lower than the limit — 70 parts per trillion — recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in May.
Questions about the safe levels of PFCs have emerged since the Defense Department revealed it has expanded its investigation of sites across the nation that potentially have elevated levels of PFCs in their drinking water to at least 2,000, most of them on Air Force bases. The groundwater contamination is believed to have been caused by decades of use of firefighting foam at military installations.
Following the New Jersey institute’s recommendation, the EPA said it is standing by its health advisory, reported the Intelligencer.
“EPA’s health advisories serve as guidance to assist federal, state, tribal and local authorities, and managers of public or community drinking water systems,” according to a written statement the agency sent the paper. “States may issue different values based on their own analyses, including more stringent values that may reflect more conservative assumptions.”
If New Jersey formally adopts the institute’s 14-parts-per-trillion recommendation for PFOA, it would be the lowest limit of any regulatory body. The Navy previously identified Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey as one of four sites where it has discovered contamination by PFCs in the groundwater.
Contaminants in the drinking water supplies also have been found outside of Philadelphia at the former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and the former Naval Air Warfare Center. The affected towns of Horsham, Warminster and Warrington have initiated plans to remove PFCs from their water systems entirely, primarily by deactivating wells and purchasing replacement water.
A researcher at Boston University told more than 100 residents at a public meeting at the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Westminster that the safe level of PFCs in drinking water is 1 part per trillion.
“They may have to revisit that,” Richard Clapp, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus of environmental health, said of EPA’s guidelines, reported the Bucks County Courier Times.
In reference to the recent 14-parts-per-trillion recommendation from the New Jersey panel, Clapp said, “I think that’s getting closer to what we need. That would be the lowest drinking water level of any state in the United States.”