Orgs Urge Cuomo to Lower Proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels

For Immediate Release: July 25, 2019

Orgs Urge Cuomo to Lower Proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels

Public Comment Period on Safe Drinking Water Begins

Albany –Today, leading environmental organizations and community groups called on Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) to set lower Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane than have been proposed. On July 24th, the Department of Health finally began the regulatory process to set MCLs for the emerging water contaminants PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane.

These industrial chemicals have contaminated drinking water supplies for millions of New Yorkers, including those in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, Newburgh, and on Long Island. The proposed state drinking water standards will require all public water systems to test for these chemicals and reduce exposure if the standard is exceeded. The state is now holding a 60-day public comment period as part of the rulemaking process, from July 24th through September 23rd. Comments can be sent to regsqna@health.ny.gov.

The organizations are calling for MCLs that are the most protective of human health and are in line with the latest science and available detection and treatment technologies:

  • PFOA and PFOS (combined): 2 parts per trillion (ppt);
  • 1,4-dioxane: 0.3 parts per billion (ppb).

The following MCLs were recommended by the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council in December and proposed by DOH:

  • PFOA: 10 ppt;
  • PFOS: 10 ppt;
  • 1,4-dioxane: 1.0 ppb.

According to the DOH regulatory impact statement, these levels provide a “sufficient margin of protection against adverse health effects in the most sensitive populations” and a “sufficient margin of protection for lifetime exposure through drinking water for the general population.”

Missing from DOH’s analysis is new science that indicates there is likely no safe level of these chemicals in drinking water and there are potential quantifiable risks to infants and children of exposure to these chemicals through breastmilk and/or formula

The DOH regulatory statement estimates that 21 percent of public water systems in New York have levels of PFOA or PFOS above the MCLs proposed by the state and would therefore be subject to treatment.

However, according to the same DOH sampling data of 278 public water systems, 93 systems—a third of the sample—detected levels of PFOA between 2 ppt and 10 ppt, and 76 systems—over a quarter of the sample—detected levels of PFOS between 2 ppt and 10 ppt. Under DOH’s proposed MCLs, those public systems are left out and would NOT be required to remove these harmful chemicals from their drinking water. These communities will continue to face a contamination crisis that is not fully addressed by the state’s proposed regulations.

Maureen Cunningham, senior director for clean water at Environmental Advocates of New York said, “The levels proposed by the Department of Health are simply not protective enough based on available science and on existing detection and treatment technologies. Every New Yorker deserves safe drinking water, and no one wants to drink contaminated water. That’s why New York’s drinking water standards for these toxic chemicals need to be as stringent as possible - to place the highest priority on public health and to ensure that if contamination is found, corrective action is taken.”

Liz Moran, environmental policy director for NYPIRG said, “The millions of New Yorkers exposed to PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane deserve surety that the water from their taps will be safe to drink. To ensure residents have that surety, plain and simple, the Department of Health must set drinking water standards that align with the latest science. New York has the opportunity to set the best standards to protect residents and to show the rest of the country what it means to act in a manner that is truly the most protective of public health and the environment - it’s critical the Department gets this right.”

Food & Water Watch senior organizer Nisha Swinton said, “Access to safe, clean drinking water should be considered an essential and fundamental human right. The governor's plan establishes strong rules, and requires public water systems to test for these chemicals. But it should never have taken this long to produce these guidelines, especially since they came from a handpicked expert advisory group. Cuomo's new clean-water rules put New York on the right path. But science tells us that we can — and must — do better.”

Ophra Wolf of Newburgh Clean Water Project said, "The Department of Health has a statutory and moral obligation to suggest contaminate limits which are supported by current science. This is an opportunity for New York State to lead the way in protecting our most vulnerable populations – especially children and babies – from a lifetime of exposure to these chemicals. Claiming that public water is safe when it's not jeopardizes families. Residents need to be able to trust their drinking water sources, and to feel secure that corrective action is being taken if toxic chemicals are present.”

Michelle O’Leary, New York Water Project member said, “Hoosick Falls has known for more than three years that these chemicals don't belong in our drinking water. MCLs should be set at the lowest levels detectable and treatable: 2 ppt for PFOA and PFOS, and 0.3 ppb for 1,4-dioxane. It's time for Governor Cuomo and the Department of Health to do what's necessary to keep our families safe."

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