The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

Widespread Contamination Found in New Jersey Drinking Water

Survey of Wells Is Far From Well; State Does Not Follow-Up on Pollutants


Tens of thousands of New Jersey residents are drinking polluted
water, according to a new state report. Despite widespread exposure to
drinking unsafe well water, state health officials ignore the risks to
an unknowing public, according to Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER).

The new report from the state Private Well Testing Act Program
covers the five-year period from 2002-2007 and includes samples from
more than one out of eight of the estimated 400,000 private residential
drinking water wells in New Jersey. The results are sobering:

  • More than 12% of over 51,000 residential wells sampled failed to meet drinking water standards;
  • The
    most common standard violations were for "gross alpha particle
    activity2 (2,209 wells), arsenic (1,445 wells), nitrates (1,399 wells),
    fecal coliform or E. coli (1,136 wells), volatile organic compounds
    (VOCs) (702 wells), and mercury (215 wells)"; and
  • These
    figures do not count extensive contamination from lead, found in more
    than 5,200 wells, because the state Department of Environmental
    Protection (DEP) considered the "results to be questionable" in part
    due to "unrealistically high concentrations of lead..."

"This report says that when you drink from a well in New Jersey, do
so at your own risk," stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a
former DEP analyst. "What is at the bottom of these wells proves that
the state testing program is broken and in need of a total overhaul."

Among the failings cited by PEER that require legislative or regulatory reform are -

  1. No requirement to fix pollution problems discovered. As
    noted in the report, "The Act and subsequent regulations do not require
    water treatment if any test parameter standard level is exceeded."
  2. Neighbors
    of polluted wells are not required to be warned. "...because these
    individual tests are considered confidential, the exact location of the
    well test failure cannot be identified"; and
  3. The Private
    Well Testing Act cannot be enforced. "Since no state agency has the
    ability to verify that all real estate transactions (sales and leases)
    subject to testing under the PWTA have been reported to NJDEP, the
    absence of results, along with errors or mistakes in the reported data,
    could have a significant impact on the evaluation and interpretation of
    the data presented."

"A classic example of what's wrong occurred in Sussex County, Byram
Township, where a well at a house being sold was found to be seriously
contaminated with trichloroethylene. The public notification
regulations suggest that the local health authority notify neighboring
properties within at least 200 feet but because no homes were located
within 200 feet of the property, neither the local health authority nor
the state performed any subsequent sampling," Wolfe added. "Our
drinking water protections should be - but are not - better than those
in the Third World."


See the full report

View the PEER analysis

Look at other recent steps backward in protecting state groundwater

Contrast huge water infrastructure deficit in New Jersey

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state
and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure
environmental ethics and government accountability

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.