Quantifying Disparities in Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Levels in Drinking Water from Overburdened Communities in New Jersey, 2019-2021

By Rosie Mueller, Derrick Salvatore, Phil Brown, and Alissa Cordner
Environ Health Perspect
April 24, 2024
DOI: 10.1289/EHP12787


Policymakers have become increasingly concerned regarding the widespread exposure and toxicity of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). While concerns exist about unequal distribution of PFAS contamination in drinking water, research is lacking.


We assess the scope of PFAS contamination in drinking water in New Jersey (NJ), the first US state to develop regulatory levels for PFAS in drinking water. We test for inequities in PFAS concentrations by community sociodemographic characteristics.


We use PFAS testing data for community water systems (CWS) () from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) from 2019 to 2021 and demographic data at the block group level from the US Census to estimate the demographics of the NJ population served by CWS. We use difference in means tests to determine whether CWSs serving "overburdened communities" (OBCs) have a statistically significant difference in likelihood of PFAS detections. OBCs are defined by the NJDEP to be census block groups in which: ) at least 35% of the households qualify as low-income, ) at least 40% of the residents identify as people of color, or ) at least 40% of the households have limited English proficiency. We calculate statewide summary statistics to approximate the relative proportions of sociodemographic groups that are served by CWSs with PFAS detections.


We find that 63% of all CWSs tested by NJDEP from 2019 to 2021 had PFAS detections in public drinking water, collectively serving 84% of NJ's population receiving water from CWSs. Additionally, CWSs serving OBCs had a statistically significant higher likelihood of PFAS detection and a higher likelihood of exposure above state MCLs. We also find that a larger proportion of people of color lived in CWS service areas with PFAS detections compared to the non-Hispanic white population.


These findings quantitatively identify disparities in PFAS contamination of drinking water by CWS service area and highlight the extent of PFAS drinking water contamination and the importance of PFAS remediation efforts for protecting environmental health and justice.

View on PubMed