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Paulsboro strikes deal to address water contamination

A plastics company has agreed to provide a filtration system for the town’s affected well.

Nearly a year after threatening a lawsuit against Solvay Specialty Polymers, Paulsboro has reached an agreement with the plastics company that requires the firm to pay for and install a sophisticated filtration system on a contaminated water well.

Solvay, based on Leonard Lane in neighboring West Deptford, has agreed to provide a "granular activated carbon" filtration system for Paulsboro's Well No. 7, which has shown levels as high as 150 parts per trillion of perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), an unregulated chemical and type of perfluorinated chemical (PFC).

The filtration system is expected to be installed by the end of 2015 and to reduce the well's levels of PFNA and other PFCs. Officials signed the settlement agreement Thursday. A source close to the matter said the system and related costs are estimated at $2.1 million.

The company does not admit liability, according to a resolution Borough Council approved Tuesday authorizing the settlement. Solvay officials have said they voluntarily stopped using PFCs — used to make products water- and grease-resistant — in 2010.

David Klucsik, a Solvay spokesman, said the company was "pleased" with the agreement. He said the negotiations reflect "our desires to respond to concerns that were raised by the (state Department of Environmental Protection) and the community."

The company will continue to test Paulsboro's other two main wells — Nos. 8 and 9 — for PFCs for six months, he said.

Like Paulsboro, four other Gloucester County towns — West Deptford, Woodbury, East Greenwich, and Greenwich — have shut down wells with high levels of PFNA. The chemical has also been detected in some private wells. A number of lawsuits have been filed against Solvay.

The chemical is not regulated by the federal government or New Jersey, although possible state standards are being reviewed. A related chemical — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) — was found by a scientific panel to have "probable links" to kidney cancer, thyroid disease, and other illnesses.

Paulsboro's case has perhaps been the most high-profile of the towns grappling with PFNA contamination.

The borough's levels were described in one DEP report as being "higher than reported elsewhere in the world" in drinking water studies. Due to other water issues in town, the borough continued to use the well until April, when it was turned off.

Bradley Campbell, the borough's attorney for the case and a former DEP commissioner, said Thursday of the filtration system: "The water will be cleaner and safer and we can restore Well No. 7 to service."

In October, the state lifted an advisory that recommended families in the town not use tap water to feed children age 1 and younger. Solvay, several weeks later, discontinued its provision of free bottled water for residents.

Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which has advocated for clean-up of the PFNA in the region, called the agreement a "success on the part of Paulsboro to address a very serious pollution problem.

"This is the beginning of what we hope is a wave of a clean-up of drinking water for the people in the area," she said.