Radioactivity, Arsenic Contaminate New Jersey Drinking Water

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 6:18 PM EDT
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Radioactivity, Arsenic Contaminate New Jersey Drinking Water

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TRENTON, New Jersey, August 28, 2008 (ENS) - Tens of thousands of New Jersey residents are drinking polluted water from private wells, according to a new state report, and radioactive contamination is the most common violation of state standards.

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.

Issued without comment by New Jersey environmental officials, it shows that more than 12 percent of over 51,000 residential wells sampled failed to meet drinking water standards.

This means that people drinking from those 6,120 wells are drinking polluted water.

Found in 2,209 wells, the most frequent violation was radioactive contamination, called in the report "gross alpha particle activity."

The term "gross alpha" does not refer to a specific contaminant, but to a group of radioactive elements found in drinking water. Data on gross alpha particle radioactivity in New Jersey private wells are included and evaluated in this report for the first time, the report states.

The next most common violation was high levels of arsenic, found in 1,445 wells; nitrates, found in1,399 wells; fecal coliform or E. coli, found in 1,136 wells; volatile organic compounds, found in 702 wells; and mercury, found in 215 wells.

These figures do not count the contamination from lead, found in more than 5,200 wells, because the state Department of Environmental Protection considered the sampling results to be "questionable" in part due to "unrealistically high concentrations of lead."

"Some results have confirmed expectations about ground water quality," the report states. "In those counties requiring arsenic testing, the results have shown that arsenic is detected in the Piedmont region of New Jersey at a greater frequency than other areas of the State that are required to test for arsenic."

"Other results are leading us to a better understanding of ground water quality," it states. "The fecal coliform results have shown that the wells in the bedrock aquifers of New Jersey are more likely to have fecal coliform contamination than wells in the Coastal Plain."

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an association of government workers in natural resources agencies, said today that the report shows the public is ignorant of the dangers of drinking well water because there is no requirement to inform neighbors of a polluted well in their vicinity, and there is no requirement to clean up the pollution.

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

"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," said Wolfe.

"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," he said.

New Jersey does not require that pollution problems found in water from private wells be fixed. The report notes that the Private Well Testing Act and subsequent regulations "do not require water treatment if any test parameter standard level is exceeded."

Neighbors of polluted wells are not required to be warned, because, the act states, "these individual tests are considered confidential, the exact location of the well test failure cannot be identified."

Additionally, the Private Well Testing Act cannot be enforced due to lack of data, the report states, in these words, "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."

To read the report, "Well Test Results for September 2002 - April 2007," click here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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