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Federal Lawmakers Call On EPA To Help With Rockland PFAS Water Contamination

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USDA/Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and New York Congressman Mondaire Jones are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help get to the bottom of PFAS contamination in Rockland County’s drinking water. This comes after PFOA in drinking water exceeded the state’s new limits.

Schumer and fellow Democrat Jones, whose 17th Congressional District includes all of Rockland County, recently wrote to the EPA’s acting administrator, asking the agency to step in and help with water testing, determine the source of the PFOA contamination and ultimately develop a remediation plan. Over the summer, New York state adopted maximum contaminant levels for three chemicals in drinking water. For PFOA and PFOS, the MCLs are 10 parts per trillion each. Rockland’s water has tested at 19 parts per trillion for PFOA, and the federal lawmakers say the situation needs an all-hands-on-deck approach. Dan Shapley agrees.

“This is among the first communities that we’re aware of in the state to have exceeded the state’s new drinking water standard. So what happens here could, could set precedents, or at least guideposts, for what to expect as other communities test for their water around the state,” Shapley says. “So it is important that we see an aggressive response.”

Shapley is co-director of the Science & Patrol Program at Riverkeeper, which is working with the Rockland Water Coalition to help the community address the situation.

“One of the, the key concerns is a thorough investigation,” Shapley says. “Given that the contamination is widespread, it’s relatively low level compared to other communities we’ve been talking about for years, like Newburgh and Hoosick Falls, where the contamination levels were at a higher concentration, but it’s still at a significant concentration, and it’s unclear what the source or sources might be because it is such a widespread contamination.”

The Suez Water system is the largest serving Rockland County. Suez’s system includes some 60 wells around the county and in New Jersey, along with multiple reservoirs, which could make finding the source challenging. The letter to EPA notes that more than 300,000 Rockland residents are potentially impacted. These residents received notification at the end of 2020. Because the Suez system also serves New Jersey, Schumer and Jones say a federal investigation is even more critical.

Suez spokesman Bill Madden says the company applauds the efforts of Schumer and Jones to address the presence of PFOA in Rockland’s drinking water. Suez also welcomes the assistance of the EPA, especially in identifying the source of this compound.

He says Suez is now investing in the necessary technology and facility upgrades, which will require swift municipal permitting approvals. He says Suez has been working closely with the state Department of Health and the Rockland County Department of Health while communicating with customers, who he invites to visit nysuezwq.com to learn about PFOA and remediation strategies. And he says Suez has started legal action in New York and New Jersey against certain chemical manufacturers to mitigate the cost impact for customers.

Again, Shapley:

“You can’t ask a polluter to pay for the contamination if you don’t know who the polluter is,” Shapley says. “So finding out where that source is or sources are is really important for the eventual cost of the treatment and the cost of providing clean water to the community.”

An EPA spokesman says agency officials are aware of the concerns, which have been expressed to EPA by several elected officials, and EPA will be conferring with both the New York state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation to determine if and how EPA can be of assistance. EPA has an advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS. Shapley says other PFAS chemicals were detected but are not regulated in New York, and he repeats a call several environmentalists made for the state to regulate many more PFAS chemicals.

“Even the water sources that don’t exceed the state standard have multiple other chemicals in this same family of PFAS chemicals present,” Shapley says. “So there were at least eight of these chemicals detected in various water sources. The two that are regulated in New York state are among them, but the six others are each regulated in at least one other state in drinking water because of health concerns.”

Rockland officials at the end of February announced a new county web app to determine whether a resident’s private well is within a quarter-mile of a point where PFOA or PFOS has been detected. New York does not require private well testing for these chemicals.

In January, EPA announced how it is moving forward with its PFAS Action Plan, including with its intent to regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water after further analyses, scientific review and public comment.

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