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NJ bill could change regulation of drinking water contaminants

A bill making its way through the New Jersey legislature could have implications for how the state regulates — and limits — harmful chemicals in people’s drinking water.

A bill making its way through the New Jersey legislature could have implications for how the state regulates — and limits — harmful chemicals in people's drinking water.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), would alter the membership of the Drinking Water Quality Institute, which was established in 1983. Its purpose was to come up with standards for contaminants and pass its recommendations to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The institute has nine members, and the bill would add three members from industry.

Another section of the bill would make procedural changes.

In testimony Thursday — before the Assembly's environment subcommittee approved the measure — five environmental groups vigorously opposed the measure.

Bill Wolfe of NJ PEER said that adding industry to the board would "set up conflicts of interests."

He also said the bill would change the procedure the institute uses to determine risk, weakening its ability to limit contaminant levels.

"We're in a very very complex area of science and regulation, and this is a sledge hammer," he said.

You can see his two blog posts about the measure here.

Hal Bozarth, of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, supported the legislation. He said that industry and commercial interests were "disenfranchised from participating in a process which affects them greatly."

He contended that the commercial members would "still be a minority" and that "in no way is this an attempt to stack the deck."

However, David Pringle, of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, predicted that "the bill will weaken drinking water standards, whether it's the intention of the sponsor or not."

Pringle served on the Institute from 2003 to 2010. He said that it was a national model, but he outlined how, in his view, it had been gutted and hobbled starting with the Whitman administration.

Jeff Tittel with the New Jersey Sierra Club said that the legislation "creates new hurdles" designed to make it harder "to update and use science."

You can hear all the testimony here. It starts at one hour and fourminutes into the recording.

The Institute's last meeting was September, 2010.  And in testimony Thursday, opponents of the legislation blamed the current administration for halting the meetings. The former chairman resigned.

The minutes for the Feb. 1 meeting,  the latest posted, show the Institute members were considering regulations for PFOA, hexavalent chromium, radon, and other chemicals.

Now, efforts to limit "extremely toxic chemicals … have been stopped dead in their tracks," said Tracy Carluccio, of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. "And now, we have people drinking water with levels that are known to cause cancer …because New Jersey's Drinking Water Quality Institute is not moving ahead."

Tom Johnson also lays out the issues in this story for NJ Spotlight.

The bill now heads to the full Assembly.