The presence of Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs), specifically perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), found in public and private water systems in New Jersey and nationwide, has created concern on campus, even more so due to public awareness of the ongoing lead water crisis in Flint, Mich.
Seton Hall has been in contact with the Township of South Orange Village Administrator Barry Lewis for updates on the South Orange water system contamination, according to Seton Hall Public Relations and Marketing.
Authorities said that the one contaminated well in South Orange’s system, Well #17, is responsible for only 10 percent of the water in the township’s water lines. Tests have shown that the remaining 90 percent of the water does not have PFOA exceeding any limits, according to the Township of South Orange Village’s website.
Despite the limited exposure to contaminants, students are concerned. Andriana Fragola, senior environmental studies major and co-president of the Ecology Club, said that people need to understand how important fresh water is.
“People need to respect it more. A lot of people don’t realize how important it is until something like this happens to them,” Fragola said, who also referred to the Flint, Mich. water crisis where dangerous amounts of lead have been detected in the city’s drinking water.
When asked for her initial reaction to the news release of the water contamination in South Orange, Fragola said, “I don’t want to say shocked because now it’s just something that happens everywhere, but I’m upset that it’s happening.”
Dan Kalmanson, vice president for Seton Hall Public Relations and Marketing, said that the University has asked the Village to keep the University informed as they work to resolve the issue. The South Orange Village website has information and resources for information on health effects posted for viewing.
An update on the website stated that while some studies have found adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFCs, PFCs are not currently a regulated chemical by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Due to this, public water systems do not have to be regularly tested for the presence of PFCs.
“The EPA developed Provisional Health Advisory levels protective for short-term exposures to PFOA of 400 parts per trillion (ppt) or (ng/L),” the website stated. “The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) developed a guideline for chronic (lifetime) exposures to PFOA of 40 ppt (ng/L).”
Ecology co-president Carolina Gomez-Bello, senior environmental studies major, has questioned the standards that are set for safe levels of exposure.
“There’s a lot of issues and not enough research done that will really calm me down that much,” Gomez-Bello said.
The New Jersey Department of Health website stated that the most consistent human health effect findings for PFOA- “the most well-studied of the PFCs”- are increases in cholesterol and uric acid levels.
Exposure to PFCs before birth or in early childhood may also result in decreased birth weight, decreased immune responses, and hormonal effects later in life, according to additional information on the New Jersey Department of Health website.
“More research is needed to understand the role of PFCs in developmental effects,” the website stated.
South Orange Village’s water supply has been overseen by the East Orange Water Commission (EOWC).
“As a result of the unacceptable performance by EOWC under that contract, the Village has elected not to renew that contract and will be resuming control of our water system effective January 1, 2017,” the South Orange Village website stated.
In terms of any case of contaminated beverages or food, Mary Elizabeth Costello, director of Health Services, said in an email that prevention is always the best practice.
“If something doesn’t look right, or smells or tastes funny, it should not be consumed,” Costello said.
If ingested, she added, “depending on the exposure, different advice will be given. Many times it is as simple as extra hydration to flush the toxin out.”
Gomez-Bello said she wants to have a sense of security that the water she is drinking is safe.
“Contaminated water (nationally) is causing all of these health problems. I want to have that security where I don’t have to go buy bottled water,” Gomez- Bello said.
Leah Carton can be reached at email@example.com