As water quality issues continue to arise throughout the state, next week the 12-member Drinking Water Quality Council is slated to hold its first meeting to consider setting maximum contaminant levels for chemicals in New York water.
A state public health official contends the rulemaking is needed because of “gaps” in the system of federal water-quality regulation. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked that the council consider setting the maximum contaminant levels for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a man-made chemical used to coat nonstick cookware and stain-resistant fabrics that residents of a small village in Rensselaer County claim has caused adverse health effects and declining property values, as well as perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and 1,4-Dioxane, during the meeting at Stony Brook University on Monday. In a statement Sept. 22, the Cuomo administration said that PFOA, PFOS and dioxane are “priority emerging contaminants” that are not regulated by the federal government.
The council is charged with advising the Department of Health commissioner on what unregulated contaminants should be tested at public water systems throughout the state, said Brad Hutton, the deputy commissioner of public health for the state’s Department of Health in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
Because the Safe Drinking Water Act requires that the federal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitor for several unregulated contaminants every five years, there are “gaps in the federal system” Hutton said. “They have been moving too slow of a pace,” he added. “We’re moving into considering establishing our own maximum contaminant levels.”
Residents of the small village of Hoosick Falls, which was designated a superfund site in July (NYLJ, July 31), have continually criticized the Cuomo administration over the slow response to its concerns about its drinking water supply, which had been contaminated for decades with high levels of PFOA, allegedly because of pollution from a factory that produced Teflon-coated products for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International Inc., the current owner and former owner. The water quality issue came on the heels of the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, that exposed thousands of residents to high levels of lead. The Hoosick Falls water contamination has spurred several lawsuits against both Saint-Gobain and Honeywell (NYLJ, Aug. 2). Tate Kunkle, an associate in the environmental litigation department at Napoli Shkolnik, a national mass tort firm that is representing Hoosick Falls residents in a lawsuit against Saint-Gobain and Hoosick Falls hopes that the council sets a maximum contaminant level because “the federal government isn’t going to help—and if it does, it will be too late—for water providers, for industry and for the people,” he said in an email.
The Cuomo administration is stepping in to regulate the chemicals because the federal government has failed to do, said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat.
“The fact that this is happening is significant because the state is again pushing ahead in a leadership position at the same time that the EPA and federal government is stepping back from a leadership role in identifying these contaminants in our water that can be harmful. It’s significant that the state is stepping forward in that void to really take action,” Bellone told the New York Law Journal Tuesday.
1,4-Dioxane, a synthetic industrial material that is “likely a human carcinogen” according to the EPA, has been found in groundwater sites across Long Island. An analysis by Newsday found 1,4-Dioxane, a stabilizer for industrial chemicals and products like detergent, in 71 percent of water districts sampled on Long Island.
The area’s water is also being contaminated by algal blooms caused by high levels of nitrogen released by outdated septic systems, which have caused beach closures and dying fish. A report released by Bellone’s office on Monday found that the levels of harmful algal blooms in Suffolk County waters may have reached a “level unprecedented elsewhere in the state.” In an effort to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus from loading into water, residential and nonresidential septic systems should be upgraded, Bellone said.