Rahway administration addresses water concerns

RAHWAY, NJ — Middlesex Water Co. sent letters dated Friday, Oct. 22, to communities in Union and Middlesex counties explaining that there are levels of perfluorooctanoic acid in their water that violates New Jersey drinking water standards.

According to the letter, which was posted on a Rahway community Facebook page, the company routinely monitors for the presence of federally and state-regulated drinking water contaminants. New Jersey adopted a maximum contaminant level for PFOA in 2020, and monitoring began in 2021. The MCL for PFOA is 14 parts per trillion and is based on a running annual average, in which the monitoring data for the four most recent quarters is averaged. But on Tuesday, Sept. 7, the company received a notice that the sample collected on Monday, Aug. 2, exceeded the PFOA MCL. PFOA was found at 36.1 ppt, which caused the RAA to exceed the MCL, regardless of the next quarter results.

So, what does this mean for residents drinking this water? According to the letter, people who drink water containing PFOA in excess of the MCL over time could experience problems with their blood serum cholesterol levels, liver, kidney, immune system and, in males, reproductive system. Over time, it may also increase the risk of testicular and kidney cancer for men. For pregnant women, drinking water containing PFOA in excess of the MCL over time may cause developmental delays in a fetus and/or infant. Some of these developmental delays may persist through childhood.

On the community Facebook page, many Rahway residents have expressed their concerns, including the question of whether or not there is any truth to the rumor that this issue will not be corrected until 2023.

Rahway business administrator Jacqueline Foushee, city engineer Daniel Lee, assistant to the business administrator Matt Pukavich and public relations coordinator Lauren Ferrigno addressed the ongoing issue of PFOA contamination.

Foushee spoke about the issue that concerns multiple municipalities, including Rahway.

“On occasion, we purchase water from Middlesex Water, even though we have our own water utility,” Foushee said on Friday, Oct. 22. “It seems as though, during one of the occasions that we purchased, they exceeded the concentration that the state law permits, and we were notified about it, and it was a small portion of the water that we distributed that day. But we’re required to notify our residents, so that’s what we’ll do.”

According to Foushee, even though a small portion of its water was affected, Rahway responded as soon as the issue was brought to the city’s attention.

“We were notified by Middlesex Water on Oct. 5, and we jumped into action at that point,” Foushee said. “Middlesex Water is not due to send letters, because we’ve asked the DEP that we be able to provide our own letters. Since Middlesex Water provides water for other communities, the letter that they have is too generic and broad. We wanted some specific information, especially because the other people who received water receive it directly and theirs is blended (in Rahway with water from other sources). It’s a small portion of our water. So we don’t want to represent it as though their water is the only water that was used that day.

“As a frame of reference, on the day that there was an issue, they provided 200,000 gallons per day of water but that was 6 million gallons per day that we provided to the community. It’s a big difference. People received it directly, but we did not. It was a mixture of our own water and their water.”

The city has combated this issue by not purchasing from Middlesex Water Co.

“In operating its own water utility, Rahway has invested and continues to invest money in treating the water, so that we can minimize the impacts of this chemical,” Foushee said. “We have an ongoing system that has kept us in compliance with the state requirements. So Middlesex, I’m assuming, will be required or should be required to do the same, and, in the interim, because their water is not meeting those requirements, we will not be purchasing from them.

“Whenever we have a concern about the quality of the water, we would provide notification, whether it’s by Nixle, email or even, if it became pressing, we would go door-to-door,” Foushee continued. “There have been times when we’ve flushed hydrants and things like that, and we just provide a standard notification to let people know that they should not drink the water. We’ve even delivered water to properties, but that’s not the case now. This is a result of an occurrence that happened back in August. It’s just that Middlesex Water is just sharing this information at this point.”

According to the letter, only a portion of Middlesex Water’s service area, served by the company’s Park Avenue Treatment Plant in South Plainfield, is affected. Middlesex Water Co. has advised residents of the affected areas who may be at greater risk than other individuals to seek advice from their health care providers about drinking this water if they have specific health care concerns or a severely compromised immune system, or if they have an infant, are pregnant or are elderly.

“The New Jersey Department of Health advises that infant formula and other beverages for infants, such as juice, should be prepared with bottled water when PFOA is elevated in drinking water,” the letter said. “Pregnant, nursing and women considering having children may choose to use bottled water for drinking and cooking to reduce exposure to PFOA. Other people may also choose to use bottled water for drinking and cooking, to reduce exposure to PFOA, or a home water filter that is certified to reduce levels of PFOA. Home water treatment devices are available that can reduce levels of PFOA. Boiling your water will not remove PFOA.”

According to the letter, PFOA is a member of the group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, used as a processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers used in nonstick cookware and other products, as well as in other commercial and industrial uses, based on its resistance to harsh chemicals and high temperatures. It has also been used in aqueous film-forming foams for firefighting and training, and it is found in consumer products such as stain-resistant coatings for upholstery and carpets, water-resistant outdoor clothing, and greaseproof food packaging. Although the use of PFOA has decreased substantially, contamination is expected to continue indefinitely, because it is extremely persistent in the environment and is soluble and mobile in water.

Middlesex Water Co. first reported on PFOA detection in its annual Consumer Confidence Report in 2008 and it began evaluating treatment options in 2019. Design of a new treatment plant, which will remove additional compounds, including PFOA, was completed and the plant is being constructed. The new treatment plant is expected to be in service in 2023.

Multiple attempts by LocalSource to reach Middlesex Water Co. about this issue were unsuccessful, as were attempts to contact the New Jersey Department of Health.