Today in New Jersey the ugly side of humanity reared its head in the form of public officials (entrusted with the task of keeping public drinking water safe) deliberately changing the East Orange Water Commission’s operations during periods of testing to hide the fact that one ore more of the wells used to supply their area with water contained elevated levels of a suspected carcinogenic compound called tetrachloroethane.

Abbreviated as PERC, the compound tetrachloroethane probably came from a time when it found itself used heavily in manufacturing, industrial and agricultural activities… a time before scientists and health officials determined that exposure to compounds like tetrachloroethane could have lasting, negative effects on human health.

Potential health problems caused by tetrachloroethane include:

  • Chronic damage of liver, nerves, kidneys, organs that form blood in the body.
  • More immediate effects of tetrachloroethane may include, but are not limited to, symptoms such as dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and in more extreme cases even unconsciousness and death.

So, where did the contaminant come from? Good question. Many compounds now labeled as environmental contaminants previously found themselves used extensively in society for a wide variety of applications. In the case of tetrachloroethane, one could have easily encountered it in use as a solvent, as part of a metal or cleaner or grease remover, and in various paint/rust removal compounds. Additionally, for a while tetrachloroethane also served as an insecticide, fumigant, and weedkiller.

Getting back to the story

The New Jersey District Attorney’s Office has indicted both the Executive Director and Assistant Executive Director of the East Orange Water Commission on a number of charges stemming from allegations that they knowingly “directed that the contaminated wells be turned off several days prior to taking samples for testing and then turned back on for pumping to the reservoir after sampling. In this manner, they allegedly falsified test results to comply with the DEP requirement that the running annual average level of PERC under normal operating conditions not exceed 1 microgram per liter (µg/L) or part per billion…” ( source )

Officials have also charged the pair with other charges related to allegations that they knowingly directed water from wells known to have unacceptable levels of tetrachloroethane into the nearby Passaic River in Florham Park — a clear violation of the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act.

Moral of the story?

Quite frankly, the alleged actions of the accused threatened the health and welfare of thousands of people who trusted their tap water and, in the grand scheme of things, the rest of us, as well.

Water moves all over and around our planet and with it also travel any contaminants it has picked up along the way — like, for example, the tetrachloroethane allegedly released into the Passaic River in this instance.

Don’t think for an instant that a water pollution incident on the other side of the state, country or even planet will not eventually, in some way, shape or form, have an effect on the quality of the water coming out of your well or faucet.

You may not realize it, but on some small level, each and every water quality disaster since the dawn of time has contributed to the quality of the water we all have today.

Reducing contaminants (like tetrachloroethane) in your water

If after having your water tested professionally — because no home drinking water test kits can detect compounds like tetrachloroethane — you discover that your water contains tetrachloroethane, we suggest you seriously consider installing a water filtration system NSF/ANSI 53 Certified to reduce the levels of contaminants listed in a category known as VOC’s (Volatile Organic Chemicals).

For more information on the VOC’s whose levels NSF/ANSI 53 Certified devices reduce, we suggest reviewing the following post we wrote a while back: NSF/ANSI Standard 53 for VOC Reduction