The New York State Drinking Water Quality Council on Tuesday recommended maximum contaminant levels for three chemicals that turned up a few years ago in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh and other communities.
After a few hours of discussion, the council voted to recommend a maximum contaminant level, or MCL, of 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, which has contaminated water in several Long Island communities. Outgoing state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos:
“I think the work that you’ve done here today will save lives. And this is New York leading, right,” Seggos said. “This is, these are unregulated compounds that no one has taken the chance to regulate the way we have and we’re doing if this comes to pass through regulation, nation-leading work.”
Liz Moran is environmental policy director with the New York Public Interest Research Group. She spoke during the public comment period after the vote.
“So while I have to recognize that this is a national standard that is being set today by New York state, we have to make sure and go forth in good faith to lower these levels down the road,” Moran said.
NYPIRG and other groups had called on the council to set an MCL of 4 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS. Before council members voted to approve a recommended MCL of 10, they discussed other levels, such as 4, 6 and 14. State Health Department Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Public Health Brad Hutton.
“Certainly there’s always a desire to be as protective as possible of public health, but, I think, when you get down to a level of 4, I think you are approaching what many would term to be background levels in the population,” Hutton said. “So it’s difficult to have that be the MCL.”
Hutton said he was concerned about the reliability of current lab technology when assessing the reporting or detection limit. Council members also considered the cost to water providers and consumers, which grows the lower the MCL. Jennifer Plouffe lives in Hoosick Falls, where PFOA leaked from the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant, contaminating the village’s water supply.
“And I hope that the DOH and DEC do their job to make sure that they make sure that these numbers remain where they are,” said Plouffe. “And if you want some money, go knock on Saint Gobain’s door. They have plenty of it.”
In Newburgh, state officials say the source of PFOS contamination was the historic use of firefighting foam at Stewart Air National Guard base. During a presentation at the meeting’s outset, Hutton showed a slide that contained the capital cost as well as the long-term operation and maintenance cost of community water systems requiring treatment at different MCL levels for PFOA and PFOS.
“At a level of 4 parts per trillion, the total capital cost would be $1.5 billion, with $78 million in O&M costs annually. At 10 parts per trillion, it would be $855 million, with $45 million O&M annually; 20 parts per trillion, $544 million, $29 million O&M annually,” said Hutton. “And then, finally, at 36 parts per trillion, $366 million capital, $19 million O&M annually.”
Emily Marpe, previously of Petersburgh and now from Hoosick Falls, offered comments while holding her baby daughter Ellie.
“I mean, I went from just being normal mom to trying to be a toxicologist, an epidemiologist, all these things,” Marpe said. “It’s terrifying.”
She did complement the council for recommending an MCL of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, though urged regulation of the entire class of PFAS, or Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, that include PFOA and PFOS.
“So though I know you all are thinking that you did a really great thing today, it could be better and it could’ve been for more. I’ll be dead by the time you set an MCL for all the PFCs. I’ll be dead,” Marpe said. “There’s over 5,000 PFCs out there market, ok? I mean, 7 weeks old, she tested higher than the village that she didn’t even live in.”
Council member Scott Stoner is chief of the Standards and Water Quality Assessment Section, Division of Water, at DEC.
“An MCL of 10 is really a highly protective health number because the systems would start taking action right in the 5 or 6 range,” Stoner said. “I think, I believe that 10 is the appropriate number.”
The meeting was held jointly via video in Albany, New York City and on Long Island, where council member Dr. Joseph Graziano, a Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health professor, talked about recommending 1 part per billion as the MCL for 1,4-Dioxane.
“I have to say, I was born on Long Island; I have family on Long Island; I have four grandchildren on Long Island,” Graziano said. “I’m comfortable with the 1 part per billion.”
Environmental groups wanted to see an MCL of 0.3 parts per billion. Graziano said the costs associated with an MCL of 0.35, which council members discussed, would be staggering. During his presentation, Hutton mentioned what a few other states were doing. He says New Jersey has proposed an MCL of 14 for PFOA; Vermont has an MCL of 20 parts per trillion for a combined groundwater standard for PFOA, PFOS and three other long-chain perflourinated substances. Minnesota, he says, has an MCL of 35 parts per trillion for PFOA and 27 for PFOS, guidance figures that are not enforceable.