Read the full article by Kyle Bagenstose (Burlington County Times)

“The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is having a tough time getting the federal government to recognize clean water standards for toxic PFAS chemicals, according to a series of letters exchanged between regulators and a statement from the U.S. Air Force.

Short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS are chemicals of growing concern, after they were used for decades in variety of commercial products, such as non-stick cookware and firefighting foams used by the military and private airports. They remain unregulated at the federal level, but New Jersey has become a national leader in setting state safety limits for the chemicals, after becoming concerned about potential human health effects such as high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, immunotoxicity, developmental delays, and some cancers…

Last April, the DEP formally signaled its intention to adopt state drinking water standards for two of the most well-known PFAS chemicals: perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The DEP is proposing to set limits of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS. Those limits would be just a fraction of a 70 ppt combined advisory limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The DEP is now in the midst of a one-year process to gather and respond to public comments on the proposal. But due to a quirk of state law, the DEP automatically created a 10 ppt ‘interim’ standard for the chemicals until the regulations are finalized. That standard is applicable to groundwater and private drinking water wells contaminated above 10 ppt for either chemical.

While the DEP can enforce the interim standard for polluted sites under its jurisdiction, the EPA, Department of Defense, or other federal agencies would need to agree to use it on sites under their control.

It appears they’re not keen to do so, based on documents obtained through open records requests.

Last November, Mark Pedersen, the assistant commissioner for the DEP’s Site Remediation and Waste Management program, wrote a letter to the EPA’s regional office for New Jersey. He asked the agency to recognize the interim standards, arguing they meet the requirements spelled out under federal law to be used for cleanups.

‘Interim standards should be accepted by the (EPA) and applicable at all federal sites in New Jersey,’ Pedersen wrote.

Pedersen wrote the office again in April, roping PFAS in with several other state-regulated chemicals that he wanted the EPA to prioritize at contaminated sites under federal control. Pedersen even offered an example, saying there is likely PFAS contamination at the Curtis Paper Superfund site in Hunterdon County, and asked the EPA to sample for the chemicals there.

In a June response letter, Pat Evangelista, acting director of the EPA’s regional Superfund & Emergency Management Division, threw cold water on much of Pedersen’s requests. He said due to federal law requiring state standards be considered on a site-by-site basis, he was unable to offer any blanket assurances the EPA would use the interim standards.

‘It would be inappropriate for us to make a general upfront determination that any or all existing or future (interim standards) will or will not be identified,’ Evangelista wrote.

But Evangelista also went further, writing that in EPA’s estimation, the interim standards fly in the face of New Jersey’s own Administrative Procedures Act because they do not meet requirements for public input. EPA was ultimately ‘not persuaded’ the state’s interim standards meet federal requirements, Evangelista wrote, adding that the agency does anticipate the finalized New Jersey standards would be ‘evaluated’ as appropriate cleanup levels.

In a separate letter, Evangelista also clarified that the EPA is sampling for the chemicals identified in Pedersen’s second letter during regular five-year reviews at Superfund sites in the state.

Asked about the EPA’s letters, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna last month stood by the state’s assessment that its interim standards are acceptable and enforceable.

‘The DEP’s goal is to ensure that decisions on remediation activities at all sites are driven by applicable ground water quality standards. Ten parts per trillion is currently the standard all responsible parties must follow when making decisions regarding remediation activities for PFOA and PFOS,’ Hajna wrote in an email…

In an emailed statement, Joint Base McGuire spokeswoman Adrienne Smythe said the Air Force is ‘currently determining’ whether New Jersey’s interim standards are applicable to its cleanup efforts. But for now, the Air Force is sticking with the EPA’s 70 ppt guidance as the level of concern, she said.

‘The Air Force notified NJDEP that we are continuing to use the EPA (level) as our standard for determining if a response is required,’ Smythe wrote.

She said that when the Air Force finds a private water well above the state interim standard but below the EPA advisory, they report it the DEP. Hajna, of the DEP, did not immediately have information Tuesday on how many wells, if any, fell into that category around Joint Base McGuire, but said he was working to find out…

The disagreement between the state and the federal government is already coming to a head in Atlantic City, where water wells used by the utility there have tested for PFAS between the state and federal levels. Those wells are located on Federal Aviation Administration property, which like the military, has environmental authority on land it owns.

Garth Moyle, deputy executive of operations for the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, first raised concerns in a December 2017 DEP meeting, predicting the system would face strict requirements from the state without the federal government agreeing to pay to meet the standard.

‘We can’t have two masters,’ Moyle said at the time.

Bruce Ward, executive director of the authority, said Tuesday the system is staring down major potential costs from the issue: $20 million in upfront costs for new filtration and $1.5 million in recurring annual costs. The utility has filed a lawsuit against several manufacturers of firefighting foam and PFAS chemicals, including 3M and DuPont, in an effort to offset those costs, Ward said…”