State and local officials gathered in front of the city of Newburgh’s water treatment plant Tuesday to urge the state Department of Health to implement drinking water standards.
The state Drinking Water Quality Council in December recommended maximum contaminant levels for three chemicals — 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. New York state Senator James Skoufis says it’s time for DOH to implement the recommendations.
“Here we are in July, seven months later, and we have not seen any real movement on this issue,” Skoufis says. “Communities cannot wait any longer for the Department of Health to finally act.”
Environmental Advocates of New York Senior Director for Clean Water Maureen Cunningham:
“We shouldn’t be here today because it’s been over three years since the water crisis first surfaced in Newburgh and, before that, similar crisis in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh,” Sullivan says.
In a July 1 letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo and DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, Environmental Advocates of New York and others call for even lower MCLs — 2 parts per trillion each for PFOA and PFOS.
“No one should have to drink contaminated water, not in Newburgh, not in New Windsor, and not in anywhere in New York state,” says Sullivan. “Along with over 30 organizations and elected officials, we are asking the Cuomo administration to not give us any more promises but instead give us protections for our water.”
The letter also calls for the state to carry through with creating an emerging contaminant list and ensure statewide testing in all communities. A DOH spokeswoman says, “The Department of Health is finalizing its review of recommendations from the Drinking Water Quality Council to go above and beyond New York’s already protective water quality measures. The State has made an historic $3 billion investment in water quality infrastructure, which includes significant financial support for the City of Newburgh, and $200 million for communities statewide to manage emerging contaminants.” Once the regulations are published in the state register, they will be subject to a 60-day public comment period. Again, Skoufis:
“Now, in light of the federal inaction that we expect to continue for the foreseeable future, New York state needs to step up and we step up by implementing these new standards,” says Skoufis.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has an advisory level for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion. In February, state Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson wrote to DOH Commissioner Zucker urging him to adopt the recommended MCLs.
“As a resident of the City of Newburgh, which is unable to use its water supply due to high levels of PFOS and PFOA, the need for these new standards is not just theoretical, it is personal to me and my neighbors,” Jacobson says.
Jacobson says DOH action would be in line with efforts legislatively. For example, a bill reducing the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam awaits the governor’s signature. Manna Jo Greene is environmental director for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. She urges a precautionary approach.
“These chemicals are guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around,” Greene says.
Officials say the source of PFOS contamination in Newburgh was the historic use of firefighting foam at Stewart Air National Guard base. Department of Defense officials have visited Newburgh twice to update the public on their efforts to address the contamination. Ophra Wolf is a city resident and member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project. She says the state needs to implement MCLs immediately.
“One of the big reasons for that is that the Department of Defense can hold off on remediating our water source and can actually argue that they only need to remediate it to the current EPA recommendation of 70 parts per trillion until the state sets these levels and makes the Department of Defense stand by them,” Wolf says.
She, like Environmental Advocates’ Cunningham, wants to see the state adopt lower standards than were recommended. Plus:
“It’s, it’s ridiculous that we’re still here talking about specific chemicals within a family of chemicals. We know that the whole family of chemicals is toxic to human beings,” says Wolf. “It’s a Wack-a-mole — PFOS, PFOA. Regulate the entire family of chemicals.”
On June 28, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services announced it had filed a final rulemaking proposal to establish MCLs for four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS. And Michigan recently announced MCL recommendations for seven PFAS chemicals, including an MCL of 8 parts per trillion for PFOA, which would be the most stringent in the nation if implemented.