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NYS Drinking Water Quality Council recommends limits on PFOA and PFOS

Riverkeeper and our partners have advocated for setting protective limits on the chemicals that have contaminated drinking water in Newburgh, Hoosick Falls and elsewhere. Take action to urge the Governor to fund clean water programs in this year’s budget, to meet these and other pressing needs.


The New York State Drinking Water Quality Council has recommended setting enforceable drinking water limits for PFOA and PFOS that would be the most stringent in the nation, but which may still fail to protect the most vulnerable populations.

PFOA and PFOS are the best known among more than 4,500 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have been manufactured, used, and, too often, released into the environment causing harm to people and wildlife. These chemicals have contaminated drinking water and fish at hundreds of locations, including in and around Newburgh. Exposure to PFAS chemicals in drinking water has been associated with an array of health concerns, including reproductive and developmental effects, thyroid and kidney diseases, and cancers. Setting enforceable limits, known as Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), for PFAS in drinking water is one essential step in responding to the challenges posed by these pernicious chemicals. The Drinking Water Quality Council, established by the Legislature in 2017 in response to drinking water crises in Newburgh, Hoosick Falls and elsewhere, has been tasked with recommending MCLs for PFOA, PFOS, and other emerging contaminants.

Riverkeeper commends the Council for providing comparatively low recommended MCLs for PFOA and PFOS of 10 parts per trillion (ppt) each. If adopted by the Department of Health, these would be the lowest enforceable drinking water limits for PFOA and PFOS set by any state to date..

However, Riverkeeper had previously endorsed NRDC’s recommended range of between 4-10 ppt of PFOA and PFOS combined, which was based on a rigorous scientific analysis. While several Council members supported lower MCLs in the 4-6 ppt range, there were not enough votes to pass a motion for a recommendation lower than 10 ppt for PFOA and PFOS individually. Furthermore, the Council specifically declined to recommend a combined MCL for the two chemicals.

The recommendations of the Council will be considered by the Department of Health in its rulemaking process to formally set enforceable MCLs. Riverkeeper urges the Department of Health to begin that process without delay, and to set a low combined MCL for PFOA and PFOS of 10 ppt or less. We also urge the Council to recognize the need to regulate PFAS as a class and to recommend a combined MCL for all PFAS chemicals to the extent it is able to do so given the current state of the science.

While we recognize that the Council’s work to recommend stringent MCLs for the PFAS class of chemicals is nowhere near done, the Legislature has directed the Council to undertake other activities related to drinking water contamination. For example, the Council is tasked with making recommendations about how the Department of Health should work with federal and state agencies to ensure that “mitigation, remediation, and cleanup projects occur in a timely manner.” Riverkeeper urges the Council to act pursuant to this directive and make recommendations so that contaminated sites, especially those, like Newburgh, that involve federal agencies, are cleaned up as expeditiously as possible. Following the discovery of PFOS and other PFAS contamination in the City of Newburgh’s drinking water supply in May 2016, nothing was done to stop the pollution at the source — the Stewart Air National Guard Base — for over two and a half years. Repeated calls for intervention at the point of discharge were met with silence from the Department of Defense until late last week, when Senator Schumer announced that the agency would install interim remedial measures to limit the pollution.

An interim remedial measure is an important milestone, but it is also long-overdue. And, it is only one step toward full remediation of the site. Moving forward, Riverkeeper is calling on the Council to identify ways in which cleanup activities — both interim remedial measures and efforts toward site-wide remediation — can be conducted more quickly and efficiently to better protect public health and the environment in the future.