This past Monday, the State of New Jersey directed five major companies to pay for a massive investigation and treatment of toxic contamination, which the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) believes has damaged the state’s drinking water, groundwater, surface water, soils and wildlife. NJDEP is holding 3M, DuPont, DowDu Pont, Chemours and Solvay responsible for discharging extensive pollution of the chemical known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, collectively referred to as PFAS chemicals. The clean up effort could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
As set out in the NJDEP directive, these man-made chemicals have been used since the 1940s to make numerous products, such as Teflon, Gore-Tex and Scotchgard, that require fire resistance or act as an oil, grease and water repellant. Some PFAS are classified as likely human carcinogens. PFAS has been linked to testicular cancer, kidney and liver cancer, and autoimmune and endocrine disorder in adults. It has also been associated with increased cholesterol and liver enzymes. The PFAS chemicals mostly studied are PFNA, PFOA and PFOS, which are discovered on a near daily basis in New Jersey’s drinking water, ground water and other natural resources.
Noting the significant health risks to the public, NJDEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe said “In issuing this directive, 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. On behalf of all New Jerseyans, we will hold these companies accountable and insist that they step up to address the problem they have created.”
New Jersey is the first state to direct chemical manufacturers to conduct a statewide assessment of the damage caused by these chemicals and to take responsibility to fund remediation of its impact. According to the NJDEP directive, DuPont and 3M knew of the health and environmental impacts of PFAS for decades but continued to use them, discharge them into the environment, without warning the public of the health risks.
In 2018, New Jersey adopted the strictest drinking water standard in the nation for PFNA. More recently, the state has issued similarly strict interim standards for PFOA and PFOS.
NJDEP has issued its directive pursuant to the state’s environmental laws, such as New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act, Water Pollution Control Act and Air Pollution Control Act. It has given the five companies 21 days to turn over detailed histories of their use of these chemicals. Ultimately, the state will identify the costs to monitor, treat, clean up and/or remove PFAS impacted areas.