New chemicals polluting the water and soil in South Jersey are known to be toxic in lab animals and humans, and the company using the substances has been aware of potential health risks since at least 1998, according to new documents made public last week by The Intercept and Consumer Reports.
Solvay, a Belgian chemical company, uses the compounds at its West Deptford plant, where it makes specialty polymers for industrial uses. The company previously disclosed their health effects to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
But until recently, detailed health studies on the new chemicals were kept from the public after Solvay claimed they were protected as trade secrets. That changed after The Intercept challenged that protection. The EPA then released nine documents revealing the health studies conducted by Solvay dating back to 1998.
Most of the research was conducted on lab animals. But the most recent study focused on the company’s own workers.
Solvay found the new chemicals in the blood of its employees at two plants, according to a 2019 letter to the EPA. The study found links between the new chemicals and increased levels of albumin (a protein made by the liver that carries hormones and enzymes through the body), triglycerides (a type of fat that can increase the risk of heart problems) and free triiodothyronine (a hormone made by the thyroid gland that affects metabolism). The study also found the new chemicals had a half-life of up to three years in blood.
It is unclear if any employees from the West Deptford plant were tested. Solvay operates dozens of chemical plants around the world, according to its website.
A DEP spokesperson previously told NJ Advance Media that the Solvay chemicals “are expected to have toxicity and bioaccumulation properties similar” to the better studied per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) they were designed to replace.
A series of other Solvay studies repeatedly found that the new chemicals were harmful to lab animals.
In 1998, multiple studies discovered the new chemicals were toxic to rats, with the animal’s liver, stomach, spleen and other organs affected. A 2011 study again found the new chemicals affected livers and other organs in rats, as did a letter to the EPA in 2017.
And yet another Solvay study in 1998 involved applying doses of the new chemicals to the skin of guinea pigs. A number of the animals died with “severe inflammation” at the site of the application.
Research published by EPA and DEP scientists this summer found the new chemicals in the soil throughout Gloucester and Salem counties, apparently dispersed through the air from the Solvay plant. The chemicals have been found as far as North Jersey. Additional research published in September found that the new chemicals have contaminated the Delaware River and groundwater near West Deptford.
Because the new chemicals are not well studied compared to other substances,…