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State fighting rise in water tainted by common chemical



A man-made chemical used in the manufacture of stain-resistant carpets, waterproof clothing, non-stick cooking pans and other products that make life less messy has spread so far through the environment that it can be found everywhere from the fish in the Delaware River to polar bears in the Arctic — and even some drinking water in North Jersey.

The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, is considered a likely human carcinogen and has been linked to a growing array of health problems. Concerned about its spread to the drinking water supply, state officials are developing new regulations that will require suppliers to treat the water to reduce the amount of the chemical reaching the taps.

Water samples taken by the state and federal government over the past few years found the chemical, also known as PFOA or C8, in numerous drinking water systems in New Jersey — including five in North Jersey — at levels high enough to cause potential health problems, according to researchers. The contaminant is found much more frequently in drinking water in New Jersey than in many other states.

Sampling conducted by the state in 2006 and 2009 showed PFOA at levels above the state’s health advisory standard of 0.04 parts per billion in Garfield and 11 other systems. More recently, the federal Environmental Protection Agency over the past two years detected PFOA in levels of at least 0.02 parts per billion in 14 drinking water systems, including Ridgewood Water, Fair Lawn, Garfield, Wallington and Hawthorne.

A growing number of researchers say levels of 0.02 parts per billion are high enough to cause health concerns under long-term exposure. In fact, as more scientific studies provide increasing detail about the chemical’s impact on human health, they say even tiny traces in the water supply can pose a danger.

“This stuff doesn’t belong in our water,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which has pushed the state to remove PFOA and similar chemicals from the water supply. “Chemical companies put it there, scientists and health experts say it has bad health effects, including cancer, and it is especially dangerous for the unborn and children. New Jersey needs to get off its duff and do something.”

PFOA is linked to kidney and testicular cancer, as well as high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and other illnesses in a still-growing body of research. There are also probable links to low birth weight and decreased immune responses.

Yet, it is among thousands of contaminants that are not regulated by federal and state governments.