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Schumer To EPA: No More Empty PFOA/PFOS Promises

Senator Chuck Schumer in East Greenbush, NY
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Senator Chuck Schumer in East Greenbush, NY

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in East Greenbush Wednesday to announce that the Environmental Protection Agency intends to set a Maximum Contaminant Level for PFOA/PFOS chemicals.

The New York Democrat spoke before a gathering at the University at Albany’s Cancer Research Center in Rensselaer County, which has grappled with water contamination in communities like Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh.    "Once the EPA declares that this is a carcinogenic substance, establishes a maximum contaminant level, then all sorts of things are triggered in terms of finding ways to deal with this issue and making the people who did wrong pay for it."

PFOA and PFOS have been linked to illnesses like cancer and birth defects.

Schumer says the EPA has been dragging its feet when it comes to setting water quality standards and says safe drinking water should be its focus above all other issues.

He wants the EPA to adopt an aggressive timeline in establishing MCLs, maximum contaminant levels.

Mayor Rob Allen says Hoosick Falls has been on filtered water since mid-2016. Saint-Gobain and Honeywell International share the blame for polluting the village water supply.   "... in terms of the average resident, we're still monitoring our health, learning more about what exposure we have seen. As a village we are still working on to get what we've spent on the situation from the companies, some form of settlement."

Allen expects DEC's Alternate Water Study report, expected in May or June, will hold some answers the village can apply as long-term solutions, in lieu of filtration.  Again, Schumer:  "The locality shouldn't have had all the burden here. There should have been a standard. There should have been a federal rule. EPA should have come in and gone after the companies that did this who were denying and reluctant at the beginning. So I think, you know, the federal government, up to this moment, EPA and others are still to blame."

Allen, a father of four, says the water crisis impacts his life every day.   "When I made the decision to step up to run for mayor, it was to sort of help the village, it was in a very tough spot. I've had a lot of support of residents and our goal has simply just been to move things forward so that we can get back to being beautiful Hoosick Falls instead of PFOA-contaminated Hoosick Falls."

Two years ago Allen told the Times Union that testing showed his children had high levels of PFOA in their blood. His daughter had the highest: 112 parts per billion, which is more than 60 times the national average.

In December, The New York State Drinking Water Quality Council  recommended a drinking water standard of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS.  Environmental groups had wanted to see an MCL of 0.3 parts per billion.   "The EPA has been a lap-dog for industry. Not just in PFOA but in everything. And best thing we can do is get a good administrator who is not just listening to the industry. Pruitt did. He's gone. Wheeler's not much better."

  • Here is the text of  the letter Schumer sent to EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler calling for immediate action : 

Dear Acting Administrator Wheeler:
I write to urge you to make it a top EPA priority to swiftly establish a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) under the Safe Drinking Water Act for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). While I was pleased by the EPA’s statement in writing last week, that the agency intends to establish an MCL for PFOA and PFOS, given this agency’s recent lack of urgency on protecting the public health, and its lax disposition with regard to policing toxic pollution,, I am deeply concerned by the lack of urgency that the EPA has displayed in its actions addressing the threat of Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Despite then-Administrator Pruitt’s statements at the PFAS National Leadership Summit in May of last year, it appears that little progress has been made. I therefore urge you to act with the urgency that this crisis deserves and to commit to an aggressive timeline in adopting a drinking water standard for these contaminants.

As you are aware, PFAS chemicals are a widespread class of toxic chemicals contaminating drinking water across the nation.  These chemicals have been linked to a number of adverse health effects, including certain types of cancers.  Within the state of New York several communities struggle with drinking water contamination, human exposure, and clean up challenges due to PFOA and PFAS pollution. In delaying an enforceable standard, the EPA will limit the public’s knowledge about their possible exposure to these toxic substances, and hinder cleanup efforts. Our communities cannot continue to wait to understand and comprehensively combat the environmental and health risks they face from PFAS.

Federal drinking water standards are needed to guide policy makers, regulators, and states, as we combat this nationwide challenge.  Federal leadership from the EPA will provide tools to states, tribes, and local communities to secure safe drinking water. I strongly urge you to establish a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS as soon as possible. It is imperative the EPA fulfills its mission to protect human health and the environment, from the known dangers of PFAS. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.



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