There’s been a lot of focus about the dangers of lead in our drinking water, but now New Jersey environmentalists are calling for a review of standards for the amount of radium in the water supply.

Back in the 1970s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established a 5 picocuries per liter safety limit, but some feel that’s too high.

“A recent analysis by the Environmental Working Group finds there’s nearly 400 New Jersey water systems that are providing water for nearly 5 million people where there are elevated levels of radium 228 and 226, which are potential carcinogens,” said Doug O’Malley, the director of the advocacy group Environment New Jersey.

“This is hundreds of systems and it’s millions of people, so we should clearly be asking questions.”

O’Malley said the state Department of Environmental Protection Agency, which follows federal guidelines, should review the latest research to see if the EPA radium standard is good enough.

He pointed out, “The EPA health standard was set when Gerald Ford was president — that’s a long time ago.”

Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the DEP, said the goal is zero radionuclides in water. But something important to understand about radium is “it is coming from naturally occurring sources. It’s in the rocks and the sand and the gravel that’s in the ground.”

“The federal government has established that 5 picocuries is a health protective standard," he said. “As a science agency, we’re always reviewing data from multiple sources, from reputable organizations and government agencies."

Hajna noted that if acceptable levels of radium are detected, water utilities must remediate with treatment systems. The state also has an aggressive private well testing requirement.

But O’Malley insists more should be done.

Over the past decade, California has come out with a stricter standard than the feds, and the DEP should carry out a review with the Drinking Water Quality Institute, “which analyses contaminants in our drinking water and recommends limits on contaminants in our drinking water.”

O’Malley said the DWQI had started working on this issue years ago, but the project was shelved by the Christie administration.

“We obviously have naturally occurring radium, but that doesn’t mean we should just wave our hand and say this isn’t a problem.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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