Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Jersey Water Worries

New Jersey residents get water from several sources. Here in Highland Park, we get our water from the Delaware and Raritan Canal. Some communities get water from reservoirs or from the Delaware River. Shore communities depend on desalinization. Still others, particularly in the more rural areas of the state, get their water from wells.

A federal study has found excessive levels of contamination in well water in northwestern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania.

The study released last month by the U.S. Geological Survey turned up potentially harmful signs of arsenic and radon in the aquifer going through Hunterdon County, as well as radon and nitrate in the aquifers of Warren and Northampton counties, according to Leslie DeSimone, the lead scientist working on the study.

Of roughly 2,100 private wells sampled in 48 states between 1991 and 2004, the geological survey tested seven wells in Northampton County, two in Warren County and 14 in Hunterdon County, DeSimone said.

"The only way you can really be sure is to have your water tested," DeSimone said. Residents "might not be aware there's potential contaminants."
New Jersey residences were subject to further testing:
Out of 286 samples last year, only four exceeded allowable standards for arsenic, or 1.4 percent, department spokesman Lawrence Hajna said. In Hunterdon County, 127 out of 747 samples surpassed standards, or 17 percent, Hajna said. The samples came from wells involved in real estate transactions.

Between September 2002 and April 2007, private wells in Warren and Hunterdon counties tested positive for fecal waste, nitrates and contaminants known as volatile organic compounds, such as degreasers and components of gasoline, according to a DEP report. Arsenic was tested for in Hunterdon County, but arsenic testing was not required in Warren County until March 2008.
None of these substances belong in drinking water, but their sources are not always known. Substances like arsenic probably have natural sources, while gasoline components would have human sources. Nitrates most likely derive from fertilizers, used either for farming or growing grass.

Contaminants are not the only problem affecting well water at the moment. Natural gas extraction is making some wells rather unstable.
Norma Fiorentino’s drinking water well was a time bomb. For weeks, workers in her small northeastern Pennsylvania town had been plumbing natural gas deposits from a drilling rig a few hundred yards away. They cracked the earth and pumped in fluids to force the gas out. Somehow, stray gas worked into tiny crevasses in the rock, leaking upward into the aquifer and slipping quietly into Fiorentino’s well. Then, according to the state’s working theory, a motorized pump turned on in her well house, flicked a spark and caused a New Year’s morning blast that tossed aside a concrete slab weighing several thousand pounds.
These two concurrent issues reveal the problems associated with energy production and the very real vulnerabilities of our water supply.