DEP DIRECTS 9 WATER SUPPLIERS TO TAKE CORRECTIVE ACTION
DUE TO STATE RADIOLOGICAL TESTING RESULTS
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today took steps to
ensure public health by directing nine water suppliers to take
corrective action due to results from the most thorough and precise
radiological testing to date of the state's public drinking water
The elevated levels of naturally occurring radiological contamination
were discovered using a new quicker testing protocol developed by DEP
to detect the presence of radium-224, a radioactive element with a
"half-life" of 3.7 days that decays too rapidly to be detected by the
commonly used methods. The accelerated testing protocol, which
requires analyzing drinking water samples within 48 hours instead of
up to a year after collection, is expected to become the national
These contaminants do not pose an immediate public health threat, but
long-term, chronic exposure is believed to increase the risk of
certain types of cancer. Radiological drinking water standards are
based on an assumption that the life-time excess cancer risk to a
person drinking two liters of water every day for 70 years should not
exceed one in 10,000.
The nine water systems with results above standards
have been directed to notify their customers and take
corrective actions. Corrective options for public water systems
include closing the contaminated well, drilling replacement wells or
using any of the well-established treatment technologies.
"The discovery of these contaminants using an accelerated testing
protocol developed by DEP staff is only the latest example of this
department's national leadership in protecting the public health and
environment," said DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn. "This department's
dogged investigation of naturally occurring radiological contamination
has given us a head-start in addressing this public health concern
while giving the rest of the nation a new tool for protecting drinking
DEP today released to water purveyors and county health officers the
results of a proactive compliance monitoring program by DEP and a
cooperative investigation of the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer conducted
with the U.S.Geological Survey (USGS). These investigations are the
most comprehensive by any state and are designed to ensure that any
potential problems are discovered and corrected as soon as practicable.
The ongoing program, initiated in July 1997, has to date conducted
sampling at 70 percent of the 615 public community water systems in
New Jersey. Under the new testing protocol, sampling has found that
413 systems comply with state and federal safe drinking water
radiological standards and nine systems will have to take some action
to comply with standards. Compliance monitoring is ongoing at 29
systems. Initial testing for the remaining164 systems will be
completed by July.
"These results are a continuation of the aggressive investigation of
naturally occurring radioactivity in ground water that was first
uncovered by DEP testing," Shinn said. "The recent findings parallel
previous ground water results reported in June 1997, and we repeat our
previous recommendation that private well owners in the
Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer have their water tested."
The Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer covers all of Atlantic and Cumberland
counties, and parts of Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Gloucester,
Monmouth, Ocean and Salem counties.
Unacceptable levels of radiological contamination were first
discovered by DEP in Washington Township (Gloucester County). That
discovery prompted the Legislature to fund radiological investigations
of drinking water by DEP and USGS that were reported in 1991 and 1996.
Results of private well testing in the Dover Township (Ocean County)
area in 1996 uncovered the presence of radium-224, a short-lived
contaminant that was not previously known to be present at significant
levels in groundwater.
The discovery of radium-224 prompted the development of new testing
methods by the state radiological laboratory and a third DEP/USGS
study. Because of radium-224's short 3.7 day half-life, water must be
tested for it within 48 hours of sampling. Prior testing methods,
because they were not performed within that period, did not reliably
detect the radium-224 in the water.
The federal and state maximum contaminant level for combined
radium-226 and radium-228 is five picocuries per liter. The standard
for gross alpha particle activity is 15 picocuries per liter.
For private wells, properly maintained water softeners are a proven
method to remove radiological contamination from drinking water.
"New Jersey continues to be in the national forefront in this field
of research. The radiological testing of public water supplies in New
Jersey has prompted the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
to fund a national assessment of the extent of this problem throughout
the country," Shinn said.
Ground water in the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer is acidic which
dissolves the naturally occurring radium in the aquifer sediments.
Initial results from public well testing in northern New Jersey do not
show a consistent pattern of elevated radiological results as exists
in the Kirkwood-Cohansey. The DEP and USGS continue to study the
situation. In the interim, concerned residents using private wells
elsewhere in New Jersey can follow the procedures recommended for
testing within the Kirkwood-Cohansey.
In addition to requiring the nine water systems to come into
compliance with standards, DEP also is taking the following actions:
- working with public water systems to ensure that any standard
exceedance is promptly corrected;
- continuing compliance monitoring of all 615 public community water
- working with the USGS to further identify areas at risk and the
causes for levels found;
- working with the EPA to develop testing procedures and maximum
contaminant levels to ensure the safety of drinking water;
- continuing to work with county health officials and advise
homeowners on the risk of radiological contamination and effective
measures to protect themselves.
Public community water supply customers may contact their water company
for more information. Private well owners should contact their county
health department for guidance on testing. Additional information and
guidance for homeowners with private wells also is available on DEP's
web page at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/rpp/radwater.htm