Trenton — Radioactivity levels in state drinking water wells are much higher than previously known and at-risk wells cover a bigger slice of the Garden State, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite significant adverse public health implications of the findings, the state has not taken steps to alert or protect affected populations.
Naturally occurring radiation has long been a known presence in New Jersey’s well water. But, according to new scientific findings presented at the May 7, 2010 meeting of the state Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI), the extent and depth of radioactivity levels are grounds for renewed concern:
- Official “Private Well Testing Act” data show that 10.7% of wells in the coastal plain violate the drinking water Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for gross alpha (i.e., radiological contaminants). Levels in excess of 30 times the MCL have been reported;
- Additional health risks in Northern New Jersey due to uranium are now being discovered; and
- The treatment system for gross alpha from radium is NOT effective in treating risk for uranium. Thus, homeowners who install certain treatment systems incorrectly think they are protected, when they are not protected if uranium is the source of radiation in their well water.
A February 2009 DWQI report estimated that more than 211,000 people are exposed to an individual cancer risk which is 600 times the acceptable risk level. DWQI recommended that the state adopt a drinking water MCL for radon 222 but it was not acted upon and no follow-up action is scheduled.
“The state should not be sitting on this information. Officials need to warn affected homeowners now that they may need treatment systems or that they have the wrong systems,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting 13 other key drinking water protections recommended at the May 7th DWQI meeting were also orphaned by the Christie administration. “This is yet another instance where supposed regulatory reform becomes regulatory retreat, leaving the public unprotected from dangers that the government is supposed to address.”
Under state law individual homeowners are notified about their well contamination readings only upon sale of the property, otherwise individual well data is confidential. In addition, there is only routine regional testing for gross alpha in the 12 southern and central New Jersey counties. In order to track gross alpha from uranium decay, which is being detected in northern counties, new regulations are required.
“Homeowners should not require lead suits to go to their wells,” Wolfe added. “The state needs to take affirmative steps to change laws and rules so that excess radiation is no longer an accepted side effect in our drinking water.”
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