Perfluorononanoate acid (PFNA) is a toxic compound used in the production of heavy-duty plastics.
And, according to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, unsafe levels of it and similar chemicals are in the Delaware River and in groundwater near Paulsboro, N.J.
"This is, really, a scandal," said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
The group is calling on the feds to take action [PDF], because it says the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection isn't doing enough.
"The only indication that we have is that the Paulsboro water department had the highest level of PFNA in the raw groundwater that feeds their water system than any other value that we have found in any scientific literature—in the world," Carluccio said.
"The potable water supplies in that portion of New Jersey are not in any danger," said Larry Ragonese, DEP spokesman.
Ragonese says the agency takes seriously Riverkeeper's concerns—and that PFNA contamination in the area is part of an ongoing study.
"We're working to determine if, in fact, there is a problem, or what steps would be taken with a certain chemical and what its impact could be," said Ragonese.
"We're aware of the contaminant, but it's not an issue that would cause a problem that we know of at this point," Ragonese added.
Some research has linked PFNA to testicular cancer, kidney cancer and other diseases. It's also difficult to remove from the environment.
Riverkeeper's petition to the feds cites the Solvay Specialty Polymers (formerly Solvay Solexis) plant in West Deptford, N.J., as the likely culprit. An official at the plant, Chuck Jones, said Tuesday the company is looking into the report.
He says the plant voluntarily discontinued the use of PFNA in 2010 and has been participating in a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program to cut back on similar chemicals.