The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has adopted new drinking water standards that set strict limits on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). The maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) are 14 parts per trillion for PFOA and 13 parts per trillion for PFOS. 

The NJDEP’s new regulations also add the chemicals to New Jersey’s list of hazardous substances and set these levels as Ground Water Quality Standards for the purposes of site remediation activities and regulated discharges to groundwater. Accordingly, sites undergoing remediation must now determine whether PFOA and PFOS have been discharged at the site and have impacted ground water. If so, remediation activities must meet the standards established in the Rule.

“Safe drinking water is a top priority for the Murphy Administration,” NJDEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said in a press statement. “With the adoption of these standards, New Jersey continues to lead the nation in protecting public health and the environment from these chemicals, which have been detected at varying levels across the state. New Jersey’s water systems have worked voluntarily and productively with us over the years, taking steps to protect the public when these chemicals have been detected. By adopting formal standards, we are putting in place a clear regulatory framework that will ensure consistency in monitoring, public notification and treatment across the state.”

Regulation of PFAS

PFOA and PFOS are part of a larger class of substances referred to as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The substances are known as “forever chemicals” because it takes so long for them to break down. The chemicals, which were formerly used in non-stick products, firefighting foam, and food packaging, have also been linked to a number of health conditions, including cancer and low birth weight.

As discussed in greater detail in a prior article, U.S. manufacturers have largely stopped using PFAS in favor of shorter-chain replacements, which are generally less bioaccumulative and potentially less toxic. However, prior discharges have resulted in very high levels of the chemicals in many public and private water systems, including those in New Jersey.

In the absence of federal drinking water standards for PFAS, states like New Jersey have taken action to fill the void. In 2018, the NJDEP was the first in the country to establish an MCL for another PFAS, perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA). Last year, the NJDEP issued a Directive ordering several companies to pay for the investigation and remediation of  PFAS-contamination.

Amendments to NJ Environmental Regulations

The NJDEP’s rule enactment makes changes to the Discharge of Petroleum and Other Hazardous Substance rules (N.J.A.C. 7:1E), Ground Water Quality Standards (N.J.A.C. 7:9C), Private Well Testing Act rules (N.J.A.C. 7:9E), Safe Drinking Water Act rules (N.J.A.C. 7:10), and New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System rules (N.J.A.C. 7:14A). Specific rule amendments include the following:

  • The NJDEP has amended the List of Hazardous Substances in the Discharges of Petroleum and Other Hazardous Substances rules to include the acidic and anionic forms of PFOA and PFOS and their salts and esters.
  • The NJDEP has amended the Ground Water Quality Standards to establish a specific ground water quality standard for PFOA of 0.014 micrograms per liter (µg/l) and a specific ground water quality standard for PFOS of 0.013 µg/l.
  • The NJDEP has amended the Private Well Testing Act rules to require testing of private wells subject to sale or lease for perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), PFOA, and PFOS and to require testing of newly constructed wells for public noncommunity water systems and nonpublic water systems for PFNA, PFOA, and PFOS.
  • The NJDEP has amended the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act rules to establish an MCL for PFOA of 0.014 µg/l and an MCL for PFOS of 0.013 µg/l. The amendments also include monitoring requirements for PFOA and PFOS for public community and public nontransient noncommunity water systems. 
  • The NJDEP has amended the New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System rules by adding PFNA, PFOA, and PFOS to the Permit Application Testing Requirements/Pollutant Listings and the Requirements for Discharges to Ground Water.

What’s Next?

The NJDEP’s new rules took effect on June 1, 2020. Accordingly, the newly adopted ground water quality standards/ground water remediation standards for PFOA and PFOS should be considered when addressing ground water remediation projects in New Jersey. For compliance assistance in this rapidly developing area, we encourage entities to contact a member of the Scarinci Hollenbeck Environmental Law Group.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.