Verona will need to spend an estimated $1 million to upgrade filtration at two town wells after the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found that they were not in compliance with state standards on contamination by one chemical.
Township Manager Matthew Cavallo announced the mandated upgrade at Monday’s Town Council meeting and said that the two wells, located on Linn Drive and on Fairview Avenue near Verona High School, have been shut down until the upgrade is completed, which could take a year.
Verona has, for years, gotten its drinking water from the two wells and from the Passaic Valley Water Commissions (PVWC) reservoirs to our north. Rather than send any water directly to our taps, the sources are blended and held in giant tanks on the east and west side of town. But now that the wells are shut, Verona will have to buy additional water from PVWC, at a cost of about $3,000 a day.
In its most recent water quality report, Verona noted that it was out of DEP compliance on Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), one of a family of chemicals known as PFAS that have been used to make things like non-stick pans, stain repellants and firefighting foam. Many companies began phasing them out two decades ago, but there are still a lot of them around and they have leached into groundwater all across the U.S.
The federal government set standards for PFAS contamination in 2016, at 70 parts per trillion (PPT) combined for PFOA and PFOS, a related chemical. But states were free to set stricter standards if they wished. In 2018, New Jersey established a drinking water standard for PFOA at 14 ppt and municipalities were told they needed to be in compliance by 2020. Verona ranged between 20.4 and 28.4 ppt in the most recent report, which was based on 2020 data. (Verona posts all water quality reports here.)
John Jahr, the principal of Bright View Engineering who functions as Verona’s township engineer, told the Council on Monday that Verona must now install very large water filters at both well heads. He said that, at Fairview, it would likely be a 12- to 16-foot cylinder, but thought that an eight-foot cylinder might suffice at Linn Drive. To protect their components from freezing weather, the cylinders would need to be housed in buildings much larger than the current well buildings.
Jahr said that Verona might be able to get some help with the cost of the work from I-Bank, the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank, an independent state agency for environmental and transportation infrastructure projects that was established by Gov. Phil Murphy. There might also be money in the bipartisan infrastructure bill now before Congress, which has earmarked $55 billion for water infrastructure. Jahr said that Verona would immediately begin designing the project, securing permits and applying for funding.
Cynthia Holland, who was elected to the Council in May, has an extensive background in environmental issues, and she was visibly frustrated that Verona must now rush to remediate its PFOA levels. “I do think it’s important for the citizens of Verona to understand that this action was a reaction,” she said. “Despite over a year of testing, which you did here, and lengthy rule-making and the rule-making lead time from the DEP, which is all publicly available information, Verona has not taken the more cost effective and proactive approach of addressing this because as was stated we could file the application to remediate this tomorrow. We could have also filed it yesterday.”
The discussion of the project was at the beginning of Monday’s meeting, which you can watch in full below. Cavallo said that the town would be sending more details to residents this month.