Legislation Will Protect NY’s Drinking Water from Dangerous Contaminants

For Immediate Release: June 5, 2019

Brian Keegan (EANY): 518-462-5526, ext. 238

Liz Moran (NYPIRG): 518-610-1828

Legislation Will Protect NY’s Drinking Water from Dangerous Contaminants

1,001 Days Since Governor Cuomo Promised Emerging Contaminant Testing

Albany – Advocates joined Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried and other legislators in Albany today to call for immediate action to protect New York’s drinking water. Assembly Member Gottfried has introduced new legislation (A.7839) establishing a list of dangerous chemicals to be tested for in drinking water, and setting a deadline for the New York State Department of Health (DOH) to implement this testing.

The legislation lists emerging contaminants that all New York communities, no matter the size, will be required to test for in their drinking water sources. The list includes not only toxic PFAS chemicals like PFOA and PFOS, but also other contaminants known to occur in New York, largely drawn from US EPA’s Third Unregulated Contaminant Rule.

In New York State, small communities are not being tested for emerging contaminants like PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane in their drinking water. Under federal regulations, only public water systems serving more than 10,000 people are required to test for certain chemicals that may harm human health. This gap in testing leaves approximately 2.5 million New Yorkers in the dark when it comes to the safety of their drinking water.

On September 7, 2016, the Cuomo Administration promised swift action to close the federal loophole. That was exactly 1,001 days ago. DOH has yet to implement statewide testing for emerging contaminants, despite being instructed by the Legislature to do so in 2017. Additionally, DOH hasn’t set enforceable drinking water standards (Maximum Contaminant Levels) for PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane, so contamination can be treated where elevated levels are discovered.

Following drinking water contamination crises in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, Newburgh, and on Long Island, and with recent data detailing that nearly 16 million New Yorkers are served by water systems in which emerging contaminants have been detected, New York still has much to do to ensure that drinking water for all residents is prote cted from source to tap.

In addition to Assembly Member Gottfried’s legislation, advocates are urging the passage of several other bills to protect drinking water and public health from emerging contaminants:

  • S439/A445 - bans PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam
  • S2000/A4739 - bans PFAS chemicals in food packaging
  • S4389/A6295 - bans 1,4-dioxane in personal care products
  • S3337-C/A5477-C - extends the statute of limitations extender for public water supplies to hold polluters accountable
  • A7625 - requires industry to test surrounding groundwater and surface water

Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried said, “Since 2017 we’ve made historic investments in water quality, but it’s only as good as our implementation and oversight. New Yorkers – especially those depending on smaller water systems – deserve the same protections as the rest of us, and that means monitoring for emerging contaminants statewide. No one should have to wait any longer for comprehensive testing for these potentially dangerous chemicals.”

Senator James Skoufis said, “I’ve committed to sponsoring this legislation because it is our duty to protect our State’s access to clean water. Amending the public health law to add this list of contaminants will significantly decrease their presence, particularly in smaller communities that may not enjoy the protections available in larger cities. I thank Environmental Advocates of New York for their tireless efforts on this issue and look forward to working together to protect every New Yorker’s fundamental right to clean and safe water.”

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Chair of the Committee on Children and Families said, “Working to ensure we have a safe, sustainable, long-term water supply, which is critical to protecting public health and safety, the environment and our very quality of life, has always been a top priority of mine. Our children and all residents of New York State in communities large and small, urban, suburban, and rural, should be able to turn on the tap and drink water without fear of consuming contaminants that put their health and the health of their families at greater risk. I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation (A.7839), and will continue to urge swift state action to combat emerging contaminants, including the establishment of strong Maximum Contaminant Levels for PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane.”

Senator Liz Krueger said, “New York families have been waiting for years to find out the answer to a simple and crucial question – is my water safe to drink? They must not be forced to wait any longer. The Department of Health has been dragging its feet on creating a list of emerging contaminants that all public water systems must test for. Since they won’t act, the Legislature must. Three years after PFOA was discovered in Hoosick Falls, New Yorkers should not still be in the dark about what’s in their water.” 

Senator Brad Hoylman said, “One of the basic duties of government is to ensure that our constituents have a water supply that is safe and clean. But between an aging infrastructure and an ever-growing list of unregulated chemicals infiltrating our water systems, New Yorkers are justifiably concerned about the quality of their drinking water. What happened in Hoosick Falls years is a stark indication that the Legislature can and must do more to proactively address water safety in a comprehensive way. I'm grateful to Assembly Member Gottfried for introducing this critical legislation.” 

Newburgh City Councilmember and Local Progress member Karen Mejía said, “We lost a lot as a community through our water contamination crisis, including trust in the ability of our federal and state government to protect us from harmful contaminants. I and my colleagues on the Newburgh City Council will continue to be a strong voice for drinking water and public health protections. New York State has an opportunity right now to lead. We can protect our drinking water and our residents, or we can sit back and watch while our streams, lakes and drinking water supplies are further tainted for years to come. We can do better. We must do better.” 

Brennan Kearney, Dutchess County Legislator, said, “As the County Legislator for the Towns of Clinton and Rhinebeck, I know how important it is to protect our water sources for our residents. Throughout the County, we have 526 small public water supplies that are currently not required to test for emerging contaminants. As a result, nearly 150,000 residents throughout the County may be going without drinking water protections from chemicals that may harm human health. Clearly, this is unacceptable, and the proposed legislation would begin requiring public water supply testing throughout the state – an important step in ensuring the environmental health of the region and the safety of our residents.”

Maureen Cunningham, Senior Director for Clean Water at Environmental Advocates of New York said, “No one in New York wants to drink contaminated water. Unbelievably, New York has now waited 1,001 days for a promised emerging contaminant monitoring list that is stalled in the New York State Department of Health. We are grateful for the leadership of Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried – his legislation would test the drinking water of 2.5 million New Yorkers whose water has not been tested. We now need to act quickly to set strong drinking water standards for emerging contaminants and prevent these toxic chemicals from entering our water supplies in the first place.”

Liz Moran, Environmental Policy Director for NYPIRG said, “The longer New York goes without statewide emerging contaminant testing, the longer residents remain in the dark about the quality of their water – and the greater the chances they could be needlessly exposed to unsafe levels of chemicals. With knowledge comes power – the power to fight to ensure that our water is safe to drink. NYPIRG applauds Assemblyman Gottfried and Assemblyman Englebright for their leadership in this fight. Now is the time for action.”

FASNY Secretary John D’Alessandro said, “The health and safety of both the public and our firefighters is of the utmost importance. Removing these dangerous contaminants from firefighting foam will help protect New York’s groundwater supply, while also preventing the exposure of firefighters to possible carcinogens. We applaud the State Senate for passing S.439 and urge the Assembly to swiftly follow suit and pass A.445.”

Members of Newburgh Clean Water Project said, “Three years after Newburgh declared an emergency due to high PFOA and PFAS readings in our drinking water, the source of the pollution has not been remediated. We urge the Governor to allow small communities to test their water, and to set contamination levels for these emerging contaminants as low as possible based on available detection and treatment technologies, to safeguard the health of every New Yorker.”

Jennifer Plouffe, Hoosick Falls resident and New York Water Project Member said, “We were kept in the dark about our poisoned water because New York doesn't have universal emerging contaminant testing. Our friends and family didn't know they were exposed to toxic chemicals because New York doesn't have universal emerging contaminant testing. Governor Cuomo promised to close this loophole, but 1,001 days later he's still dragging his feet. We thank Assembly Member Gottfried for acting where the Governor has failed. We can't expose New Yorkers to dangerous chemicals any longer.”

John Gebhards, executive director of Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance said, “Our Newburgh community has been exposed, unknowingly, for possibly decades to the 'emerging contaminant' Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, which is now known to be a toxin very hazardous to our health. Legislation such as Assembly Member Gottfried's bill will be a move in the right direction to discover toxics in our drinking water before, not after, years of exposure.”

Food & Water Watch senior organizer Nisha Swinton said, “We have a clean water crisis across the state, and it’s time for the Legislature to stand up for the health and safety of affected communities by closing the federal loopholes that put them at risk. State political leaders already know what needs to be done to protect New Yorkers from an array of emerging contaminants. Now it’s time to move forward on sensible legislation that protects our right to safe, clean drinking water.”

NYS PTA President Lorey A. Zaman said, “We thank the sponsors of this legislation and Environmental Advocates for working to ensure the safety and well-being of our children and their families. Protecting safe drinking water sources is critically important, and NYS PTA looks forward to working collaboratively on this issue as we make every child’s potential a reality.”

David VanLuven, Town of Bethlehem Supervisor said, “Strong state and federal standards are crucial to ensuring that New Yorkers have clean drinking water. In Bethlehem, we tested for PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane and found no signs of contamination. I support the proposed legislation because not only will it benefit our community, it will help all New Yorkers.”

Kathleen Curtis, LPN, Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York said, “All New Yorkers deserve the right to know what’s in their drinking water. Requiring testing of emerging contaminants in drinking water in all communities, large and small, is a necessary step in protecting the health of all state residents. New York should commit to using this information to promote green chemistry and engineering as drivers to ‘turn off the tap’ on toxic PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane chemicals and replace them with viable, safer alternatives.”

Jeremy Cherson, legislative advocacy manager for Riverkeeper said, “New York must prevent harmful chemicals from getting into the environment, and hold polluters accountable when they do. We've seen too often the consequences when harmful chemicals contaminate our drinking water, fish and wildlife. We urge the New York State Legislature to take quick action to protect public health and the environment by passing these bills.”

Alok Disa, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at Earthjustice said, “With the Trump Administration dragging its feet on regulating PFAS, it is important that New York State step up and act on behalf of its residents. These man-made chemicals linked to cancer and other serious illnesses are creating a public health crisis in New York communities. The time to act is now. To help get PFAS out of our drinking water and food, the Legislature should pass, and Governor Cuomo should sign, S.439/A.445 and S.2000/A.4739-A, which ban PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging – two major sources of PFAS contamination.”

Lorraine Merghart Ballard, a long-time member of the Southern Washington County community and the Director of the Battenkill Conservancy said, “The need for vigilance of the public water systems in small towns like those of Southern Washington County is crucial. Local governments are not equipped with the resources to test for these contaminants on their own. Lowering the thresholds to safeguard these communities would build confidence and spur investment.”

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