The New York State Association of Counties and two other groups are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health to act on setting contaminant levels for chemicals that have been found in drinking water.
The New York State Association of Counties, or NYSAC, along with the County Health Officials of New York and the New York State Conference of Environmental Health Directors are urging the agencies to set maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, for such chemicals as PFOA and PFOS. Stephen Acquario is NYSAC executive director.
“It’s an issue that’s going to be around here for awhile,” Acquario says. “And the state of New York and the federal government need to act now so that local governments can be part of the testing, part of the monitoring and help maintain the integrity and the security and the safety of our drinking water.”
He says if the EPA will not set an MCL, then the state should take up the charge. The EPA 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. Saying that protecting America’s drinking water is a top priority, an EPA spokeswoman says, "EPA is committed to evaluating PFOA and PFOS under the regulatory determination process using the best available science. As a part of the evaluation, EPA will be reviewing all newly available scientific information including the ATSDR report. EPA is taking steps to accelerate the determination process before the existing statutory deadline." Acquario says more and more county leaders are speaking about the issue.
“It’s a growing issue of concern,” says Acquario. “I think that public officials, elected officials are having a better appreciation about the consequences of this contaminant that’s existing in our drinking water, in our surface water, especially around the Hudson Valley, off the Stewart Air Force base.”
Newburgh’s main drinking water source was found to be contaminated with PFOS more than three years ago. And Acquario mentions the contamination in Suffolk County on Long Island, in Dutchess and Orange Counties. There is PFOA contamination in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, in Rensselaer County. Rich Crist is spokesman for Republican County Executive Steve McLaughlin.
“Setting standards that are clear and easy to understand is a good step,” says Crist. “And, along with that, though, we also think that as you’re setting the standards, we also think there should be a process and a path for remediation established by the federal government as well to deal with this situation.”
Plus, he says.
“I think also establishing the standard will help different levels of government work together because there’s less chance of confusion,” Crist says. “Early on in the Hoosick Falls issue, there was a lot of confusion of, did this level of government who’s responsible for testing tell this other level of government who’s responsible for monitoring drinking water tell this other level of government who may be responsible for allowing people to access the public water system. There was a lot of confusion. I think having a clear established benchmark in rules will be helpful for all concerned residents and those serving those residents on the governmental level.”
NYSAC’s Acquario says the state recognizes the PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances.
“And what local government officials are wondering and questioning is why hasn’t the federal government classified PFAS — PFOS, PFOS and the family of chemicals tied to the PFAS chemical tree — to a federal hazardous substance,” says Acquario. “And why that is important is because we can then begin to draw down on federal superfund remediation funds. And together with state superfund remediation funding, we can truly address properly water contamination in our state.
A state Department of Health spokeswoman says, in part, “New York State remains focused on setting protective MCLs for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water in the absence of national standards, including a thorough review of the recent ATSDR report recommending minimum risk levels for PFAS.”