Paulsboro may sue plastics company over PFCs in water

Posted: January 18, 2014

PAULSBORO Officials in Paulsboro may sue a plastics company whose West Deptford facility has been connected to potentially dangerous compounds tainting a water supply.

The borough sent a letter to Gov. Christie this week calling for the state's Departments of Environmental Protection and Health to immediately address the contamination issue.

Mayor W. Jeffery Hamilton wrote that the borough would file a citizens' suit against Solvay Solexis, but pleaded for state intervention.

Solvay management and the DEP have been conducting tests into the levels of PFCs (perfluorochemical compounds) since fall, Solvay officials said.

PFCs are used to manufacture plastics and other water- and stain-resistant materials, according to a 2012 report by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Tests on animals showed exposure to the compounds can have adverse health effects, such as reduced immune-system functions.

"The mayor and the borough are concerned about that - and that's why they've asked, and they've got no guidance from the state regulatory agencies," said Brad Campbell, a lawyer and former DEP commissioner representing Paulsboro. "The borough wants the experts from the DEP and Department of Health to have a public meeting, talk about any potential risks."

Paulsboro officials argue that the PFCs present an "imminent and substantial danger" to the community. It asked the state to administer tests on residents to determine PFC levels in their blood.

The letter to the governor says the materials have migrated in the ground, seeping into groundwater and also pervading Mantua Creek and the Delaware River.

DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said data showed Paulsboro's Well No. 7 was the only source with elevated levels of the contaminant.

"It does supply drinking water," Campbell said. "The borough is working to . . . reduce its reliance on that well."

And while officials note that drinking-water tests were up to state and federal standards, there are no maximum contaminant levels dictating acceptable amounts of PFCs, largely because of uncertainty on the compound's affects.

Solvay representatives maintain they are cooperating with the DEP and are being proactive in assessing the water supplies and determining solutions, and say they stopped using PFCs in 2010, after participating in a voluntary U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program.

Solvay postponed a Jan. 6 meeting with the borough after receiving the 90-day notice of intent to sue. Both sides characterized a meeting in late 2013 as tense.

"We are reaching out to Paulsboro to schedule another meeting," Chuck Jones, a Solvay manager, said Thursday.

Jones and site manager Geoff Pass questioned why the borough had declared an emergency now, even though the borough had some results indicating the contaminant levels were known to it as far back as 2009.

"We're a little baffled by that," Jones said.

Campbell said, "The 2009 results were sent to the borough [by the DEP] but with no explanation of the potential health affects or any indication that it should be a concern."

The Leonard Lane facility has been under new ownership several times since the 1980s. Solvay assumed operations at the site in 2002.

Paulsboro has also called for the state to reconvene the Drinking Water Quality Institute, a panel that advises the DEP but has fallen silent since 2010, and explore PFC health impacts.

Environmentalists have blamed the Christie administration for the institute's going temporarily dark, but DEP officials have said several members left the panel.

Hajna said the state expected the panel to start up again. It was unclear Thursday when that would happen.


afichera@philly.com856-779-3840

@AJFichera

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