The water contamination crises in Hoosick Falls and elsewhere in the state has made clear that how the state responds to crises must be dramatically altered, and that more must be done to prevent water contamination in the first place. It’s also apparent that the state Departments of Health (DOH) and Environmental Conservation (DEC) are currently not structured to ensure effective responses to, and prevention of, such crises.
In November 2015, residents of Hoosick Falls, NY learned that their water was polluted by an unregulated contaminant, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and that they needed to cease drinking their water. PFOA is one of over 80,000 chemicals on the market which are currently unregulated despite its health dangers being known. While several measures have been taken, to this day the drinking water source itself for Hoosick Falls remains contaminated.
This bill is an excellent step in the right direction, as it creates a Drinking Water Quality Institute to, amongst several responsibilities, develop a list of contaminants for testing, set maximum contaminant levels for unregulated contaminants, and establish a notification process for municipalities facing water quality issues. This final point is very important as the muddled and disjointed response to the crisis in Hoosick Falls from DOH – which at times contradicted guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to not drink the water – created confusion and ongoing worry.
Environmental Advocates has recommendations to strengthen this bill and protect the sanctity of our drinking water:
- Require emerging contaminant lists to be regularly reviewed, updated, and regulated to ensure that emerging contaminants are continually accounted for. Specificity on this frequency, such as on an annual basis, should be included.
- Require that communities of all population sizes not only test for chemicals required by the Institute, but also for chemicals listed by the EPA on their chemical contaminate list. Currently, testing is only required for communities with over 10,000 residents, by the EPA, to test for chemicals on their Chemical Contaminant List every few years.
- Require the Institute to promptly notify residents when it is discovered that there is a contaminant in their water at levels exceeding the established Maximum Contaminant Level, and that residents should cease drinking water until contaminant levels have been safely reduced or eliminated.
- Require all data, including community testing results, to be publicly available and easily downloadable on a newly-created Institute website.
- Regulating chemicals in New York and providing additional protections for water is a big undertaking, and it is important that it is done right. This bill provides a great opportunity for the State to lead on this issue.
This bill adds a new provision to the public health law that creates a 15-member Drinking Water Quality Institute within the Department of Health, which would come up with recommendations for the department related to the state’s water quality.