New York state’s Drinking Water Quality Council met this week to discuss recommending maximum contaminant levels for three emerging contaminants, including PFOA and PFOS. Council members are slated to issue recommendations at their next meeting before the end of the year. Council members have been reviewing scientific studies as well as the actions of other states. Meantime, affected residents and environmentalists say setting the levels is long overdue.
A number of groups and individuals have been calling on New York state and the federal government to set maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, for a class of chemicals knowns as PFAS, or Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. It’s a class that includes PFOA and PFOS, chemicals that have affected drinking water in places such as Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, respectively. Then there’s 1,4-Dioxane. Liz Moran, water and natural resources director for Environmental Advocates of New York, spoke during the public comment period at the end of the October 17 meeting.
“The inaction that has been witnessed today is a tremendous disappointment for all New Yorkers. It was over two years ago that Governor Cuomo and the Department of Health promised action on these very chemicals and testing if the federal government did not act,” Moran says. “That was September 2016. This sentiment has been reiterated several times since. How long do you have to say it until you actually do it?”
Moran is among those who have criticized the council for not having set levels by an October 2 deadline. Steve Risotto, however, is urging the council to take their time. He’s senior director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Chemistry Council.
“While we recognize the state’s interest in moving quickly to the development of standards for PFOS and PFOA, ACC urges the council and the health department to take a thoughtful, scientific approach to assessing the available information prior to proposing MCLs for these two substances.” Risotto says.
Yet state Health Department Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Public Health Brad Hutton wants to get moving. At the outset of the October 17 meeting, he said the next council meeting, to be held in November or December, is to recommend MCLs.
“And it’s our intention that we would schedule that next meeting, once again, a shorter special meeting, to get your recommendation to the commissioner on an MCL for 1,4-Dioxane, PFOA and PFOS,” Hutton says. “The thinking is that there’s some new information that we really want to focus on today to put you in the best position to make that recommendation but we are going to be moving quickly to get your availability and get that meeting on the calendar and get that recommendation.”
It’s a recommendation that would then be issued for public comment. Again, Hutton.
“While we’ve asked you to remain laser focused on PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-Dioxane, we’ve been having all along a discussion about the fact that there’s this broader and growing group of Per- and Polyfluorinated alkyl substance chemicals, that we need to really conceive of a broader approach for them as opposed to one at a time,” Hutton says.
It’s an approach Nisha Swinton advocates. She is Northeast senior organizer for Food & Water Watch.
“We were really disappointed that they kicked the can down the road to the next meeting in December/November but we definitely request that the state regulate PFAS chemicals as a class,” Swinton says. “We also want them to establish a combined maximum contaminant level of 4 parts per trillion, and then immediately adopt regulations to require statewide testing for these and then other emerging contaminants.”
Risotto says the American Chemistry Council does not see a scientific reason to assign an MCL for the entire PFAS class. 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 more than 850-page draft report recommending an MCL of 7 parts per trillion. And there was talk during the council meeting about this report. Frank Natalie is business agent for United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 7, which includes nine counties surrounding Albany.
“The inaction by this council makes no sense to me considering the risk that these chemicals pose to our families, children and the unborn,” Natalie says.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature created the 12-member council in September 2017. Earlier in October, Cuomo announced $200 million in grant funding to help communities address federally unregulated contaminants in their drinking water, saying the state is about to take the step of setting enforceable drinking water standards for the emerging contaminants PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-Dioxane.