Community and environmental advocates, along with some New York state lawmakers, are calling for the withdrawal of a proposed revision to recommended maximum contaminant levels for drinking water. Yet water suppliers welcome the revision that state health officials detailed Tuesday.
Just prior to the Drinking Water Quality Council meeting in Albany, a number of environmental leaders denounced a proposed revision currently open for public comment. The revision does not adjust what the Council recommended in its December 2018 meeting; that is, recommended maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, for three chemicals — 10 parts per trillion each for PFOA and PFOS, emerging contaminants found in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, respectively; and a recommended MCL of 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane.
“One of the major differences between the initial rulemaking and the revised rulemaking is a deferral provision,” Wheeler says.
Kristine Wheeler is assistant director of the Bureau of Water Supply and Protection at the state Department of Health’s Division of Environmental Health. She says the proposed revision comes after the department received more than 5,000 comments in response to proposed regulations to establish the three MCLs. She says the revision is fair for water suppliers and provides an open process for the health department.
“So the deferral defers an MCL violation for 24 months with potential for one additional 12-month period. A request for a deferral must be made within 90 days of adoption of the MCLs,” Wheeler says. “And this deferral is specifically intended for those water systems that have sample results; those sample results indicate they are in exceedance of PFOA, PFOS or 1,4-Dioxane and they have some type of a structure in place where they are proceeding with some type of corrective action. These are systems that have maybe already made some sort of a fiscal commitment that they intend to comply with these MCLs.”
Environmentalists and others want the proposed revision rescinded. Maureen Cunningham is senior director for clean water at Environmental Advocates of New York, and spoke during the public comment session Tuesday.
“We urge you to rescind the proposed deferral provision, which removes some of the public notification requirements from the normal MCL process, going from Tier 2 notifications to Tier 3, and facilitates further delays in cleaning up toxic water, which are not necessary for PFOA and PFOS, thereby weakening the rule which decreases transparency, accountability and, ultimately, public health,” Cunningham says.
State Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried opposes the deferral, as does fellow Democratic Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee, from Rockland County. A Department of Health spokeswoman underscores that the option for deferral of enforcement does not nullify notification requirements for exceedances, is not intended to delay testing or treatment, and will not reduce transparency in any way. Again, Wheeler.
“We do recognize that it takes time to install infrastructure and treatment technologies to comply with these new regulations,” says Wheeler. “And we do want to recognize those water systems that have made a lot of progress with that over the last year or so while we have been in this interim rulemaking process.”
Julia Li is a legal fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council and opposes the deferral provision. And she is one of several proponents of reducing MCLs further.
“We urge the Department to finalize the MCLs for PFOA and PFOS at a combined concentration of 2 parts per trillion,” Li says. “The weight of the evidence demonstrates that this standard is not only more protective of human health but it is also feasible. Technology has been demonstrated to both detect and treat PFOA and PFOS to below 2 parts per trillion.”
Environmental Advocates’ Cunningham also urged state health officials to regulate PFAS as a class of chemicals. A state Department of Health spokeswoman says the Drinking Water Quality Council’s recommendation of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA/PFOS and 1.0 parts per billion for 1,4-Dioxane is based on the best available science and input from expert stakeholders, and the department looks forward to the final adoption of these standards at the April 2 Public Health and Health Planning Council meeting. Kingston Water Department Superintendent Judith Hansen supports the latest revisions, but had some cautionary words.
“The risk associated with these contaminants cannot come from water suppliers or our consultants. We lack the expertise, the credibility and the resources that this type of outreach demands,” Hansen says. “We’re grateful that the Heath Department has promised to take a leadership role in this effort, but we believe it needs to begin now. The public deserves the truth about the risks associated with these contaminants, and that messaging can only come from the health department.”
And she voiced concern, as did others, about whether DOH had enough staffing to effectively carry out and oversee new measures. George Kansas is public works commissioner for the Town of Bethlehem.
“We ask that the state provide more grant funding to assist utilities in removing PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-Dioxane from our drinking waters,” Kansas says. “We need more grant funding, not just low-interest loans, if we want to avoid significant rate increases that would be thrust upon the ratepayers due to capital improvements and increased annual operations and maintenance expenses that will result from this regulation.”
The comment period for the proposed revision ends March 9.