New York is inching closer to joining a handful of states trying to make sure that public water supplies don’t contain two industrial chemicals found in some non-stick pots and pans, paint strippers, stain resistant clothing and firefighting foams.
State health officials are set to appear before the state’s Drinking Water Quality Council on Tuesday to present a plan for setting drinking water limits of 10 parts per trillion for chemicals PFOA and PFOS, according to Brad Hutton, deputy commissioner of the state’s Office of Public Health.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that PFOA and PFOS could potentially be harmful to the health of certain people and suggested that drinking water not contain levels of more than 70 parts per trillion, but that limit is voluntary.
New York health officials also want a limit of 1 part per billion for 1,4-dioxane, a synthetic chemical found in inks, adhesives and household products such as shampoos. Experts consider it a likely carcinogen and say it can easily find its way into groundwater.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration first proposed the new water standards last fall and the state’s health commissioner gave his OK to proposed limits in July.
WHAT’S THE HOLD UP?
State health officials said they’ve waded through 5,000 public comments on the proposed regulations. The specifics of the regulations are still being worked out, though.
Environmental groups frustrated with the lack of an enforceable federal standard say it’s up to states like New York to act swiftly.
It’s unknown just how many communities in New York are providing drinking water that would violate the proposed standards for the three industrial chemicals the state is targeting.
Preliminary tests suggest about 82 out of 1,500 drinking water wells on Long Island, mostly in Nassau County, have too much 1,4-dioxane.
Meanwhile, a number of New York municipalities are dealing with a legacy of PFOS and PFOA contamination from military and industrial sites.
All New York water suppliers will have to check their wells once the state officially adopts its drinking water standards. Water suppliers say they may have to shut off their wells if the state says they’re in violation.
Water districts are lobbying state officials to delay new limits for up to six years over concerns about liability and costly, untested filtration systems for 1,4-dioxane. They’re also seeking clean-up money from polluting companies, as well as the state and federal governments.
Many water districts are moving ahead with clean-up efforts anyway.
Some water customers will soon feel a pinch: The Suffolk County Water Authority this week announced it will be charging customers a $20 quarterly fee starting in January to help pay for treatment systems expected to cost $177 million.
COULD COMMUNITIES JUST GET WATER ELSEWHERE?
Newburgh had to switch its water supply after officials in 2016 found high levels of PFOS in the local reservoir due to contaminated run-off from firefighting foam at a National Guard base. It now gets its water from the Catskill Aqueduct, which pulls its water from the Catskill Mountains.
Next week, the state is set to meet with residents of the village of Hoosick Falls in an ongoing effort to address water supply contamination from a plastics company. State environmental officials have suggested five options, including a new groundwater source or connecting with the city of Troy’s water system.
On Long Island, there has been talk of building infrastructure that would allow it to tap into the system of water tunnels that supplies New York City with its drinking water.
Through massive investment over decades, the city has gained control of big reservoirs in the mountains to its northwest, protected them by buying up surrounding land and preventing development, and constructed massive tunnels to deliver the water to the city’s urban core.
Opening up that system to Long Islanders would be costly and potentially politically challenging, but there are signs of growing interest.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat, called on Cuomo this fall to study the idea.
A spokesman for the agency that manages New York City’s water system said sending the city’s water to Long Island would pose “ several significant challenges, ” including reservoir capacity. But demand for drinking water has dropped by 33% since the 1990s even as the city’s population has grown.
It could be a better alternative than sinking money into treating water contaminated with 1,4 dioxane for decades, said Melville lawyer Nick Rigano.
“What else is in the water that we don’t know about?” said Rigano, the chairman of the Nassau County Bar Association’s environmental committee.
Tyrand Fuller, chairman of an organization that represents Long Island water officials, said it’s up to water suppliers to consider all options.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Long Island-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said city water should only supplement Long Island water. She encouraged better water conservation and management.
“We are using more water from the aquifer than the rain is able to replace naturally each year,” she said. “It is not a sustainable system.”
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