The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Radioactive Wells Pose Bigger Risks in New Jersey

Hundreds of Thousands Exposed Daily to Rad Levels Many Times over Safety Limits


Radioactivity levels in state drinking water wells are much higher
than previously known and at-risk wells cover a bigger slice of the
Garden State, according to agency documents released today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite significant
adverse public health implications of the findings, the state has not
taken steps to alert or protect affected populations.

occurring radiation has long been a known presence in New Jersey's well
water. But, according to new scientific findings presented at the May
7, 2010 meeting of the state Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI),
the extent and depth of radioactivity levels are grounds for renewed

  • Official "Private Well Testing Act" data show that
    10.7% of wells in the coastal plain violate the drinking water Maximum
    Contaminant Level (MCL) for gross alpha (i.e., radiological
    contaminants). Levels in excess of 30 times the MCL have been reported;
  • Additional health risks in Northern New Jersey due to uranium are now being discovered; and
  • The
    treatment system for gross alpha from radium is NOT effective in
    treating risk for uranium. Thus, homeowners who install certain
    treatment systems incorrectly think they are protected, when they are
    not protected if uranium is the source of radiation in their well water.

A February 2009 DWQI report estimated that more than
211,000 people are exposed to an individual cancer risk which is 600
times the acceptable risk level. DWQI recommended that the state adopt a
drinking water MCL for radon 222 but it was not acted upon and no
follow-up action is scheduled.

"The state should not be sitting
on this information. Officials need to warn affected homeowners now
that they may need treatment systems or that they have the wrong
systems," stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting 13 other
key drinking water protections recommended at the May 7th DWQI meeting
were also orphaned by the Christie administration. "This is yet another
instance where supposed regulatory reform becomes regulatory retreat,
leaving the public unprotected from dangers that the government is
supposed to address."

Under state law individual homeowners are
notified about their well contamination readings only upon sale of the
property, otherwise individual well data is confidential. In addition,
there is only routine regional testing for gross alpha in the 12
southern and central New Jersey counties. In order to track gross alpha
from uranium decay, which is being detected in northern counties, new
regulations are required.

"Homeowners should not require lead
suits to go to their wells," Wolfe added. "The state needs to take
affirmative steps to change laws and rules so that excess radiation is
no longer an accepted side effect in our drinking water."

View the DWQI PowerPoint presentation

Track gross alpha trends (2002-2007) in New Jersey

Read the Radon 222 report

See pollution pattern in New Jersey drinking water wells

Look at the breakdown of water quality standard-setting in New Jersey

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.