Environmental groups are urging the New York state Department of Health to lower recommended levels for three drinking water contaminants. A public comment period on the recommendations for PFOA and PFOS is now open.
The state Drinking Water Quality Council in December recommended maximum contaminant levels for three chemicals — 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, emerging contaminants found in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, respectively. The council also voted to recommend an MCL of 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane. State health officials say the recommendations used the best available science. Environmental Advocates of New York Senior Director for Clean Water Maureen Cunningham contends these numbers are not low enough and do not take into account the latest science.
“Most notably, by the NRDC, saying that basically the goal should be zero, so the maximum contaminant level goal should be zero because that’s the most protective of human health,” Cunningham says.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an advisory level for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion each. State and local officials gathered in front of the city of Newburgh’s water treatment plant in early July to urge the state Department of Health to implement drinking water standards, and begin the regulatory process by publishing the recommended MCLs for public comment. The state announced such intentions days later. The public comment period opened July 24 and closes September 23. At the Newburgh gathering, New York Public Interest Research Group Environmental Policy Director Liz Moran called on the state to go further.
“New York state has every tool in its power to use to stop this from happening, to stop future water contamination crises and to ensure that the public knows what’s in their water,” Moran says. “It starts with setting maximum contaminant levels that are stringent and the most protective of human health and the environment.”
Ophra Wolf is a City of Newburgh resident and member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project. She, too, spoke in Newburgh in early July.
“Regulate the entire family of chemicals,” says Wolf. “And New York state has to regulate them, as Maureen Cunningham said, at the lowest level that science has told us, which is even lower than the state recommendations right now.”
With the comment period now open, Wolf says the Department of Health has a statutory and moral obligation to suggest contaminant limits that are supported by current science. A state Department of Health spokeswoman says, in part, “The experts on New York's Drinking Water Quality Council recommended the nation's most protective levels for PFOA and PFOS and the first-ever level for 1,4-dioxane.” She says the department will take all comments submitted during the 60-day public comment period into consideration. Again, NYPIRG’s Moran.
“But the sad reality is is that Newburgh is not alone; New Windsor is not alone; Hoosick Falls is not alone. There are millions of New Yorkers who are already impacted by PFOA, by PFOS and 1,-4 Dioxane. And then, these are just three chemicals,” Moran says. “We found that over 1.4 million New Yorkers are exposed to unsafe levels of PFOA and PFOS, and over 2.8 million New Yorkers are exposed to unsafe levels of 1,4-Dioxane And that’s just with limited testing.”
Testing, she says, of large water systems. In May, NYPIRG issued a report called “What’s in My Water,” showing the prevalence of emerging contaminants detected in the state’s public drinking water supplies.
Meantime, Environmental Advocates’ Cunningham says her group is preparing comments and will submit comments both on its own and as part of a coalition, and will continue advocating that the state regulate other PFAS chemicals.