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For Immediate Release: Aug 28, 2008
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

WIDESPREAD CONTAMINATION FOUND IN NEW JERSEY DRINKING WATER

Survey of Wells Is Far From Well; State Does Not Follow-Up on Pollutants


Trenton — Tens of thousands of New Jersey residents are drinking polluted water, according to a new state report. Despite widespread exposure to drinking unsafe well water, state health officials ignore the risks to an unknowing public, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The new report from the state Private Well Testing Act Program covers the five-year period from 2002-2007 and includes samples from more than one out of eight of the estimated 400,000 private residential drinking water wells in New Jersey. The results are sobering:

  • More than 12% of over 51,000 residential wells sampled failed to meet drinking water standards;
  • The most common standard violations were for “gross alpha particle activity2 (2,209 wells), arsenic (1,445 wells), nitrates (1,399 wells), fecal coliform or E. coli (1,136 wells), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (702 wells), and mercury (215 wells)”; and
  • These figures do not count extensive contamination from lead, found in more than 5,200 wells, because the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) considered the “results to be questionable” in part due to “unrealistically high concentrations of lead…”

“This report says that when you drink from a well in New Jersey, do so at your own risk,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “What is at the bottom of these wells proves that the state testing program is broken and in need of a total overhaul.”

Among the failings cited by PEER that require legislative or regulatory reform are –

  1. No requirement to fix pollution problems discovered. As noted in the report, “The Act and subsequent regulations do not require water treatment if any test parameter standard level is exceeded.”
  2. Neighbors of polluted wells are not required to be warned. “…because these individual tests are considered confidential, the exact location of the well test failure cannot be identified”; and
  3. The Private Well Testing Act cannot be enforced. “Since no state agency has the ability to verify that all real estate transactions (sales and leases) subject to testing under the PWTA have been reported to NJDEP, the absence of results, along with errors or mistakes in the reported data, could have a significant impact on the evaluation and interpretation of the data presented.”

“A classic example of what’s wrong occurred in Sussex County, Byram Township, where a well at a house being sold was found to be seriously contaminated with trichloroethylene. The public notification regulations suggest that the local health authority notify neighboring properties within at least 200 feet but because no homes were located within 200 feet of the property, neither the local health authority nor the state performed any subsequent sampling,” Wolfe added. “Our drinking water protections should be – but are not – better than those in the Third World.”

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See the full report

View the PEER analysis

Look at other recent steps backward in protecting state groundwater

Contrast huge water infrastructure deficit in New Jersey

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability