PFAS Are a Public Health Crisis
PFAS are a large class of chemicals that contaminates our drinking water, air, and soil. PFAS are found in hundreds of products that we use daily, including nonstick cookware, firefighting foam, moisture- and stain-resistant clothing, carpeting and upholstery, and cleaning products. PFAS are often called “forever chemicals” because they remain in the environment for an unknown length of time and bioaccumulate in the bodies of humans and animals.
“PFAS have the ability to persist in all environmental media, making their contamination ubiquitous. People in New Jersey have been exposed to these chemicals in their air and drinking water for decades. This is extremely concerning because very low doses can cause significant health effects,” explained Anjuli Ramos-Busot, NJ Chapter Director. Health problems associated with PFAS include infertility, immune system disfunction, cancer, liver damage, developmental disorders, and thyroid disease.
New Jersey Has a PFAS Problem
Beginning in 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took action to monitor PFAS chemicals in consumer products and control their manufacture and import. Because the chemicals take so long to break down, however, New Jersey is still contending with the legacy of decades of pollution by such companies as Chemours, DuPont, Solvay, and 3M and military bases such as Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Our risk of exposure remains high.
The chemical industry, in the intervening time, has worked to develop similar compounds that may be just as toxic but are not subject to regulation. The burden of mitigating this proliferation is widely referred to as “chemical whack-a-mole.” There are now more than 4,700 chemicals in the PFAS family.
Because of tightening thresholds for PFAS from the NJDEP, many New Jersey municipalities are out of compliance and exceed the thresholds. They must now remediate their water systems. This affects more than 500,000 consumers and includes Middlesex Water Company, which recently shut down its South Plainfield treatment plant and is obtaining water from alternate sources. The plant is expected to come back online sometime in 2023 after the necessary filtration systems are put in place.
What We’re Doing About It
The Sierra Club is highly engaged in the fight against PFAS contamination. The Columbia Law School Environment Law Clinic recently filed an amicus brief on behalf of the the NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club in support of a lawsuit by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection against Solvay Specialty Polymers USA. NJDEP wants Solvay to clean up the company’s site in West Deptford. And in a separate legal action in January 2022, the national Sierra Club joined a lawsuit to force the EPA to close loopholes that allow companies like Solvay to underreport and even hide their levels of PFAS contamination.
Our Chapter staff is currently working with members of the NJ Legislature to address PFAS emissions and contamination in NJ. An active volunteer committee provides staff support and outreach.
While we work to combat PFAS production and contamination, taxpayers foot the bill for cleanup, and we all pay an intolerable price in human health. We hope you’ll join us in the fight against PFAS pollution.
The NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club has a committee of concerned activists working to combat PFAS contamination. Join us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breaking Down Toxic PFAS, Earthjustice.org
NJ Drinking WaterWatch – Enables you to view drinking water info for your water system
Middlesex Water shuts down contaminated wells, will use other sources (12/1721), MyCentralJersey.com
New Jersey Sierra Club Joins NJDEP to Hold Solvay Accountable for Gloucester Toxic Mess (5/28/2021)
PFAS Fact Sheet