Public meeting addresses Paulsboro's contaminated water

Joyce Gauthney speaks to a meeting on contamination of Paulsboro's water supply. The meeting also included officials of the company alleged to be responsible.
Joyce Gauthney speaks to a meeting on contamination of Paulsboro's water supply. The meeting also included officials of the company alleged to be responsible. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 20, 2014

PAULSBORO For the first time in months of public concern about Paulsboro's contaminated water supply, state and local officials addressed residents Tuesday night in a packed auditorium at Paulsboro High School.

Many residents expressed frustration during the nearly 21/2-hour meeting, and many answers were not immediately available.

The borough's water supply has elevated levels of a perfluorinated compound (PFC) known as perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA).

There are no state or federal regulations for PFC levels in water, and the health effects of the compounds remain unclear.

Representatives from Solvay Specialty Polymers, the West Deptford plastics company allegedly responsible, said they had established a four-step plan: a work proposal being reviewed by the state Department of Environmental Protection; tests on other local water supplies; a feasibility assessment of possible solutions; and implementation of the fix.

Solvay has maintained that it is working to fix the contaminated Well No. 7 but has not said if it will install a filtration system or find another solution.

"At the end of the day, it's all going to be expensive," said Geoff Pass, a Solvay representative. It "has to work."

Fred Sickels, acting director of the DEP's division of water supply and geoscience, said he believed a filtration system at the community's water source to be the most viable option.

The contamination came to light last year, after the Delaware Riverkeeper Network obtained data from 2009 through open-records requests. The network's Tracy Carluccio criticized the DEP for inaction at the meeting Tuesday.

The DEP sent the 2009 data to the borough, but officials say they were not told of any immediate concerns. DEP officials have said the department is not aware of any studies "that have directly linked consumption of water with PFNAs with human health effects," but advised families with children 1 and under to use bottled water for feeding.

Many parents said the revelations were too late to accommodate for their young children.

"In 2010, I had a child. He's 3 years old now," said Dottie Palmisano, a 16-year resident. "He bathes in it. He consumes it."

Health Department officials insisted that the advised level is overly cautious, considering the unknown health impacts.

Solvay has provided bottled water to families with children under 1 at a local hardware store. Pass said the store was instructed to not turn any families away.

Paulsboro officials are moving forward with plans to upgrade filtration systems for their two primary wells - Nos. 8 and 9 - to account for naturally occurring radium.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a former Paulsboro mayor, said he was positive Solvay and the state and local officials would reach a solution quickly.

"It's going to be over very soon," he said.

856-779-3917 @AJFichera

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