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Atlantic City MUA pursuing lawsuits to help clean chemical from water

Source:, March 18, 2019
By: Michelle Brunetti

The Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority faces more than $20 million in costs to comply with updated state drinking regulations on a new class of chemical, said ACMUA Executive Director G. Bruce Ward.

Ward said he will not raise water rates to cover the additional costs, but will pursue litigation against manufacturers DuPont and 3M as a way to help offset the cost.

“We are drafting now our complaint to join a multi-district suit,” said Ward at a meeting of the Bungalow Park Civic Association on Thursday night.

Last September, New Jersey began regulating perfluorononanoic acid, or PFNA, used in making plastics, Teflon and other products.

It adopted a maximum contaminant level standard at 13 parts per trillion by 2020.

It’s just one of many per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, more of which are likely to be regulated soon.

The Department of Environmental Protection is expected to soon also set maximum contaminant levels for perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA; and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, toxic compounds released by manufacturing and the use of firefighting foam by the military at as many as 600 Department of Defense facilities across the country.

“These substances are in our drinking water at 39 parts per trillion,” said Ward.

The two ACMUA wells are located on the Federal Aviation Administration’s property at the Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, said Ward, where PFAs from firefighting foam runoff has gotten into the groundwater.

It will cost about $20 million for a new carbon plus membrane treatment to pull the remaining contaminants out, Ward said, plus about $1.5 million a year in additional costs.

The FAA property was designated a National Priority Listed hazardous waste site in 1990, in the early years of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program, FAA spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt has said. A cleanup is still under way there.

The ACMUA moved its wells there in 1983, to get away from pollution at the Price’s Pit Superfund site. In 1984, it signed a “hold harmless” agreement, saying the FAA would not be held liable for future contamination, Ward said.

Attorneys are also looking into that agreement, and whether the FAA can be held responsible for any of the costs of removing the chemicals.

Those old enough can remember when the FAA did a lot of research on development of flame-resistant fabrics, said Ward.

“I remember when we drove by the FAA and saw a plane on fire,” he said. “They were testing fabrics for the ability to resist extensive burning. And they put that fire out with foam, and that foam has PFAs in it. It created a plume that is now resident in drinking water.”

Several PFAs have turned up in ACMUA samples, according to Larry Haijna of the state Department of Environmental Protection. The chemicals are persistent in the environment.

In March 2017, Atlantic City MUA was issued a temporary treatment approval by the Division of Water Supply and Geoscience to replace existing filter media for removal of PFAs. As a condition of the approval, the system was required to conduct monthly samples on both raw and treated water.

The water system is working with DEP to identify funding and additional options moving forward, according to DEP.

PFAs are unregulated at the federal level and have been found in New Jersey’s drinking water at concentrations higher than other states, particularly in the Delaware River watershed in and around Gloucester County, according to the Riverkeeper Network.

“I personally think the regulatory standard is unreasonable but my personal view doesn’t matter,” said Ward, who said he hasn’t seen data showing the amounts in Atlantic City’s water system would present a health problem. He has only seen tests on rats using vastly higher concentrations of the chemical.

“We still have some of the best water coming from the Cohansey Aquifer,” said Ward.

Other cities have to obtain raw water from rivers, and deal with much more contamination, he said.

Some in the audience asked if they should filter their drinking water at home. He said the process to remove parts per trillion of PFAs is more complicated than a home filtering process.

“I don’t have a filter on my water, and I’m the water guy,” said Ward. “I just drink it.”

If a lawsuit cannot help the city fund a new treatment system, “Plan B” involves moving the wells, he said.

“But if we can capture money to upgrade treatment, that’s what should do first,” he said.

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