Read the full article by Michael Sol Warren (NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
“Along the Delaware River in South Jersey, where heavy industry has long contributed to polluted water, air and ground, scientists have raised the alarm over a new contamination.
A scarcely studied group of chemicals can now be found in soil across Gloucester and Salem counties, according to new research by scientists from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The pollution appears to have been spewed into the air — some of it blown as far as North Jersey —from a West Deptford chemical plant that was blamed for a water crisis just a few years ago.
The study, published last month in the journal Science, focuses on the spread of a new substance used by Solvay, a Belgian chemical company, as part of manufacturing operations at the company’s South Jersey facility.
‘Usually, the journal Science doesn’t accept something that isn’t a fairly big deal,’ John Washington, an EPA scientist who was the lead author on the study, told NJ Advance Media.
The chemicals in question are replacements for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — chemicals that are known to be toxic to humans and have grabbed attention in recent years, from pollution on military bases across the U.S. and the burning of the chemicals in garbage incinerators to serving as the subject of the 2019 film “Dark Waters” starring Mark Ruffalo.
PFAS, used in nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, firefighting foam and a range of other products, are sometimes called ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not easily break down in the environment or the human body. They have been linked to cancer and other health effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Larry Hajna, a DEP spokesperson, said in a statement that the new Solvay chemicals “are expected to have toxicity and bioaccumulation properties similar” to more well-studied PFAS. The potential health effects of these compounds is not yet known.
‘The DEP is committed to supporting and advancing further studies to better understand the distribution and potential environmental and health impacts of replacement chemicals,’ Hajna said.
Washington said the EPA would continue studying the new chemicals, and urged others to join the research.
‘We’re going to continue to work on them in my lab,’ Washington said. ‘The hope is that, having published this, other researchers will be interested and study them as well.’
Solvay told NJ Advance Media in a statement that it has provided toxicology reports for its new chemicals to the EPA and the DEP. Hajna confirmed that DEP has such reports from Solvay, but added that the state can’t make them public because the included proprietary information is protected.
At the start of July, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network — an organization which has spent years raising awareness of pollution associated with the Solvay plant — and other environmental groups sent a letter to DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe seeking more information about the contamination and calling for more research.
The DEP has not yet responded to that letter.
Tracking down the pollution
The new findings stem from analysis of soil samples taken by the DEP from around New Jersey — mostly from South Jersey — in late 2017.
It’s in that region where two major chemical facilities — the Chemours (formerly DuPont) Chambers Works plant in Pennsville and the Solvay plant in West Deptford — are known to have caused PFAS pollution in the past.
Scientists examined each soil sample for the presence of chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates (ClPFPECA) — molecular pieces of the new Solvay compounds that serve as sort of fingerprints, because they are not found in older PFAS pollution…”