New Jersey has ordered five companies to fund the cleanup of chemicals used at manufacturing sites that contaminated drinking water, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced Monday — a massive effort that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The state launched an effort Monday to hold the companies — 3M, DuPont, DowDuPont, Chemours, and Solvay — accountable for pollution with PFAS chemicals under the state’s Spill Act and other environmental laws.
The DEP’s directive requires the companies to turn over detailed accounts of their use of the chemicals in New Jersey within 21 days. State officials will estimate future cleanup costs at a meeting with the companies in the next month. The state has already spent more than $3 million to investigate and clean up contamination surrounding Solvay’s West Deptford site, officials said, which it is now asking Solvay to repay.
With multiple states grappling with PFAS contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency pledged last month to begin its own cleanup initiative and to hold polluters accountable, but states have long criticized its pace and sought to take their own actions.
New Jersey has been among the first states pushing its own regulations for the chemicals. The DEP is set to propose long-awaited drinking-water standards for PFOA and PFOS — two types of the substances — on Monday, the directive said.
“Now is the time for action at the state level,” Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said in a statement Monday. “The current EPA plan leaves millions of Americans exposed to harmful chemicals for too long by choosing a drawn-out process that will delay establishing a federal maximum contaminant level for PFAS.”
Known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS were used in plastics manufacturing and firefighting foams, and have been found in drinking water, groundwater, and soil in communities in New Jersey and in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. They have been linked with health problems including cancer, and were used in household products like Teflon, Gore-Tex, and Scotchgard.
In September, New Jersey adopted the strictest drinking-water standard in the country for PFNA, one type of PFAS. Earlier this month, the DEP established strict interim groundwater quality standards for PFOA and PFOS.
Much of the cleanup effort and government response in Pennsylvania and other states has focused on military contamination and seeking funding from the Pentagon. New Jersey’s DEP also cited PFAS contamination at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst due to firefighting foams manufactured by 3M and used by the military. Some residents who live near the base have high levels of PFAS in their private drinking water wells.
In Pennsylvania, PFAS found in drinking water supplies that serve thousands of residents in Bucks and Montgomery Counties have also been attributed to firefighting foam used on former military bases at Warminster and Willow Grove. Officials are expected to hold a meeting in Montgomery County next month to update residents on their investigation into the contamination.
In New York, Minnesota, and other states, areas tainted by plastics facilities or manufacturers are facing cleanup.
The DEP alleged the companies operating in New Jersey were aware of the dangers of the chemicals for years.
“DuPont and 3M knew of the health and environmental impacts of PFAS for decades but continued to use them in products and to release them into the environment,” the directive said, citing previous studies, including 3M studies done as early as the 1970s.
Solvay, too, should have known about the effects of PFAS due to studies in the 2000s and knew it was discharging “large amounts of PFNA” from a West Deptford facility “as early as 1991,” the DEP alleged. Contamination in public and private wells was found surrounding Solvay’s Gloucester County plant in 2014.
“We are putting these five companies on notice that many years of contaminating New Jersey’s precious drinking water and other natural resources will not go unchecked,” McCabe said.
In statements Monday, representatives for the companies said they were reviewing the directive. Dan Turner, a spokesperson for Dupont and DowDupont, said the company communicates with New Jersey officials “on a regular basis.”
Solvay has been in touch with DEP and has “implemented remedial activities" at its West Deptford site, which employs 140 people, said spokesperson David Klucsik.
Chemours said in a statement that it is “committed to continue to work with NJ DEP and to continue to determine the appropriate actions and next steps.” The company said it never used PFOS and no longer uses PFOA in its manufacturing work.
3M said in a statement that the company looks forward to working with New Jersey officials.
PFAS is “discovered on a near-daily basis in New Jersey’s drinking water, groundwater, surface waters, sediments, soils, air, fish, plants and other natural resources,” the DEP said.
In 2006, PFOA was detected in 65 percent of drinking water sources tested near facilities that had used the chemicals; in 2010, between one and eight types of PFAS were found in 70 percent of 33 drinking water sources sampled across the state.
“This is critical that DEP is going after these companies to make them clean up their mess they made,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is a major step forward in cleaning up PFOAs and PFOS and enforcing New Jersey clean-up laws against polluters.”