#TDIWH—January 15, 2009: PFOA Provisional Health Advisory; 1917: Death of William J. Magie

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

January 15, 2009: On January 15, 2009, the USEPA set a provisional health advisory level for PFOA of 0.4 parts per billion in drinking water. “Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8 and perfluorooctanoate, is a synthetic, stable perfluorinated carboxylic acid and fluorosurfactant. One industrial application is as a surfactant in the emulsion polymerization of fluoropolymers. It has been used in the manufacture of such prominent consumer goods as Teflon and Gore-Tex. PFOA has been manufactured since the 1940s in industrial quantities. It is also formed by the degradation of precursors such as some fluorotelomers.

PFOA persists indefinitely in the environment. It is a toxicant and carcinogen in animals. PFOA has been detected in the blood of more than 98% of the general US population in the low and sub-parts per billion range, and levels are higher in chemical plant employees and surrounding subpopulations. Exposure has been associated with increased cholesterol and uric acid levels, and recently higher serum levels of PFOA were found to be associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease in the general United States population, consistent with earlier animal studies. ‘This association was independent of confounders such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, and serum cholesterol level.’”

Jersey City Chlorination Facility at Boonton Reservoir

Jersey City Chlorination Facility at Boonton Reservoir

January 15, 1917: Death of William J. Magie. In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment (except for detention and sedimentation fostered by Boonton Reservoir) was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. William J. Magie was selected by Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens to hear the second part of the case in which the use of chlorine for disinfection was a contentious issue. One might assume that someone relatively junior might be appointed as the Special Master to hear the highly technical and excruciatingly long arguments from both sides of the case. Not so. William Jay Magie was one of the most revered judges of this time period. He took the role of Special Master in 1908 after completing 8 years as Chancellor of the Court of Chancery. Prior to that, he was a member of the New Jersey Senate (1876-1878), Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court (1880-1897) and Chief Justice of the same court from 1897 to 1900. (Marquis 1913)

“As a trial judge his cases were handled with notable success, as he had ample experience in trying causes before juries and a just appreciation of the worth of human testimony…” (Keasbey 1912) Judge Magie would need all of his powers of appreciation of human testimony in the second trial, which boiled down to which of the expert witnesses could be believed when both sides marshaled some of the most eminent doctors, scientists and engineers in the land.

Judge Magie was born on December 9, 1832 in Elizabeth, New Jersey and lived his life in that town. He graduated from Princeton College in 1852 and studied law under an attorney in Elizabeth. He was admitted to the bar of New Jersey in 1856. At the time of the second trial in 1909 he was 77 years old and near the end of his distinguished career.

On May 9, 1910, William J. Magie submitted his Special Master Report. One of Magie’s findings was of critical importance to the defendants because he laid to rest the concern that chlorine was a poison that would harm members of the public who consumed the water.

“Upon the proofs before me, I also find that the solution described leaves no deleterious substance in the water. It does produce a slight increase of hardness, but the increase is so slight as in my judgment to be negligible.” (Magie, In Chancery of New Jersey, 1910)

The Special Master Report then delivered the finding that defendants had been waiting for:

“I do therefore find and report that this device is capable of rendering the water delivered to Jersey City, pure and wholesome, for the purposes for which it is intended, and is effective in removing from the water those dangerous germs which were deemed by the decree to possibly exist therein at certain times.” (emphasis added) (Magie, In Chancery of New Jersey, 1910)

Magie’s finding summarized in this one sentence approved the use of chlorine for drinking water. After this ruling, the use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection exploded across the U.S. (McGuire 2013)

In a filing after Magie’s final decree, compensation for Judge Magie was noted as $18,000 for the entire second trial with its 38 days of testimony over 14 months, dozens of briefs and hundreds of exhibits. It must have been the hardest $18,000 he ever earned.

References:

  • Keasbey, E.Q. (1912). The Courts and Lawyers of New Jersey, 1661-1912. Vol. 3, New York:Lewis Historical Publishing Co.
  • Magie, William J. (1910). In Chancery of New Jersey: Between the Mayor and Aldermen of Jersey City, Complainant, and the Jersey City Water Supply Co., Defendant. Report for Hon. W.J. Magie, special master on cost of sewers, etc., and on efficiency of sterilization plant at Boonton, Press Chronicle Co., Jersey City, New Jersey, (Case Number 27/475-Z-45-314), 1-15.
  • Marquis, Albert N. (1913). Who’s Who in America. 7, Chicago:A.N. Marquis.
  • McGuire, Michael J. (2013). The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.
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