This week, a New York state task force recommended new maximum contaminant levels for chemicals found in drinking water.
On Tuesday, the New York State Department of Health’s Drinking Water Quality Council recommended new Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs, for chemicals currently unregulated by the federal government.
Thresholds of 10 parts per trillion were set for PFOA and PFOS. The chemicals have polluted water supplies in communities like Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, and Newburgh.
As part of a consent order with New York State, companies Saint-Gobain and Honeywell have installed a permanent filtration system on the Village of Hoosick Falls water supply and hundreds of filtration systems on private wells in Hoosick Falls and the Town of Hoosick.
David Engel, environmental attorney with Nolan and Heller who also represents the village of Hoosick Falls, does not believe the recommendation for new MCLs will impact testing or operating of filtration systems.
“So all the sample results we get produce the results as against a detection limit that is somewhere around 1.6 parts per trillion. So if the samples come back and the values are higher than that, we know that’s the result. And the filter system that is in place out in Hoosick Falls, is designed and operates with the purpose of getting below detection limits,” said Engel.
Though Engel says the new thresholds do not likely affect testing or operations, they do confirm the validity of residents’ concerns about health.
PFAS contamination has been linked to several health effects, including various forms of cancer.
Engel declined to say if the new MCLs would affect ongoing negotiations between the Village of Hoosick Falls and Saint-Gobain and Honeywell, but did say the actions by the Drinking Water Quality Council should make it “abundantly clear” that PFAS contamination is a serious public health problem.
“And some of the efforts by the companies in the past to downplay or belittle the significance of these issues are finally revealed as being really without any kind of credibility at all. It’s time, I think, for the companies to recognize just how serious this is,” said Engel.
Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen, writing on Twitter, called the new MCLs a “huge, huge step forward.”
However, he did express concern about comments from State Health Department Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Public Health Brad Hutton as the Drinking Water Quality Council was considering PFAS thresholds below 10 parts per trillion.
“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.
Allen said there is “no natural background for PFOA in nature.”
The companies at the center of the Hoosick Falls contamination issue are also weighing in.
In a statement emailed to WAMC, Saint-Gobain spokeswoman Dina Silver-Pokedoff said of the new proposed MCLs for PFOA and PFOS:
“This does not change the companies’ ongoing commitment to work with local, state and federal officials.”
Honeywell spokeswoman Victoria Ann Streitfeld said:
“Honeywell remains focused on conducting the environmental investigations and necessary remediation under the state’s supervision and direction.”
Sean Mahar, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said Superfund actions in Hoosick Falls will continue, as will testing to ensure that cleanup objectives are being met.
“Now, I think Hoosick Falls was really one of the impetuses behind the governor forming the Drinking Water Quality Council, and making sure that the state had the right authorities to address these emerging contaminants across the state, and to make sure that other communities in the state weren’t being put at risk by these contaminants in drinking water supplies,” said Mahar.
Mahar said as the recommendations are forwarded to the Department of Health for a regulatory rulemaking process, DEC will remain on the scene to ensure Hoosick Falls is “put back whole.”
State officials began testing private wells for PFAS contamination in early 2016. At the time, an EPA action level was set at 100 parts per trillion.
Though the new recommendation is one tenth of that number, New York state allowed Hoosick area residents with private wells to have a point-of-entry treatment system installed on their property regardless of testing results.Justin Deming, Public Health Specialist with DOH’s Division of Environmental Health Assessment’s Bureau of Environmental Exposure Investigation, said in light of the new MCL recommendations, the actions taken would not change.