The New York State Drinking Water Quality Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon. The council is expected to recommend maximum contaminant levels for toxic substances that have turned up in drinking water in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh and other communities. The meeting begins at 3 in Albany, New York City and on Long Island.
The council is set to recommend maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, for three emerging contaminants that fall under a class of chemicals known as PFAS, or Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. Brad Hutton is state Health Department Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Public Health.
“Today, the focus will definitely be on getting recommendations from the council for PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-Dioxane," Hutton says. "Future meetings will be held to get the consideration of the council members for other emerging contaminants, but those three are the focus of today.”
Environmental groups are urging the council to recommend an MCL of 4 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, and 0.3 parts per billion for 1,4-Dioxane. Rob Hayes is clean water associate for Environmental Advocates of New York.
“Everyone has the right to know if there are dangerous levels of chemicals in their drinking water,” Hayes says. “And so, with maximum contaminant levels, testing can finally begin in all communities across the state and contamination can finally be addressed where it is found.”
Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. In June, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, released a draft report recommending an MCL of 7 parts per trillion. Environmental Advocates’ Hayes.
“The science has been very clear that low maximum contaminant levels are necessary to protect our most vulnerable populations from the negative health impacts of these chemicals, especially pregnant women and children,” says Hayes.
The EPA says studies have linked PFOS, which contaminated Newburgh’s drinking water, with potential health risks such as birth defects and damage to the liver and thyroid, along with elevated risks of kidney and testicular cancers. Again, Hayes.
“The meeting today is really the product of incredible and tireless advocacy by residents in impacted communities like Hoosick Falls and Newburgh and Petersburgh,” Hayes says. “It has been more than three years since the water crisis in Hoosick Falls came to light. And the council made a promise to these residents that they were going to protect drinking water for all New Yorkers. And, today, they have the possibility and the opportunity to do that, and we hope that they’ll take it.”
The DOH’s Hutton describes the regulatory process and timeline.
“So these are recommendations to the commissioner of health, who will then consider those recommendations. And the Department needs to proposed revisions to the state sanitary code. When we publish those in the future, it kicks off a 60-day public comment period. Ultimately, they need to be brought before another council that we have — the Public Health and Health Planning Council — that has a role in voting on and approving any proposed revisions to regulations here in New York,” says Hutton. “So there’s a regulatory process ahead, but today’s a really key milestone in moving forward to implement new maximum contaminant levels in New York.”
He says the goal is to move aggressively through this regulatory process. Could new MCLs could be in place by the end of 2019?
“I think that’s very possible,” Hutton says.
But Hayes wants to see MCLs in place by the end of this year, via emergency rule-making, to allow for testing to begin as soon as possible.
The Drinking Water Quality Council last met in mid-October, when Hutton said the next council meeting, to be held by December, would be to recommend MCLs for the three emerging contaminants. At that time, environmentalists and others criticized the council for not having recommended levels during the October meeting.
There will be a public comment session at the end of today’s meeting. Guidelines aim to hold comments to two minutes. Hutton says he does not anticipate any issues accommodating public comments. The meeting is being webcast.