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NYS must increase safeguards on toxic PFAS in drinking water


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Riverkeeper and its partners deliver message to Department of Health in support of stronger drinking water protections

Members of the public spoke up this month to urge New York State to protect drinking water through stronger, science-based limits on toxic PFAS chemicals. We would like to thank all of our members and supporters who joined Riverkeeper and our partners in submitting letters to the Department of Health through our action alert page.

A formal comment letter was submitted to the Department of Health December 5 by Riverkeeper, Environmental Advocates NY, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, PfoaProject NY, Seneca Lake Guardian, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, NYPIRG, Clean+Healthy, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Professor Phil Brown of Northeastern University, Earthjustice, and NRDC. You can read the full letter here.

The class of toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals,” have long polluted drinking water across New York, including the Hudson Valley. One particularly egregious crisis was faced by the City of Newburgh, whose main drinking water reservoir was contaminated by firefighting foam used at the nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently declared that there is no safe level of exposure to certain PFAS chemicals. Exposure over a lifetime to even trace amounts of these chemicals in drinking water may increase the risk of negative developmental effects in fetuses and breast-fed infants, as well as kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage, and other health problems.

It has been over eight years since PFAS chemicals were first detected in New York drinking water supplies. Since then, new contamination continues to be discovered in communities across the state, including many Hudson Valley communities. In the absence of effective federal action, states have stepped in to address the difficult problem posed by these chemicals. New York State has set drinking water standards for two PFAS – PFOA and PFOS – and designated them as hazardous substances, triggering state Superfund cleanup processes at contaminated sites.

In October, the Department of Health proposed long-delayed regulations to establish new drinking water standards and notification levels for 23 additional toxic PFAS chemicals. These standards will determine when drinking water contamination is cleaned up and when New Yorkers are directly notified about what’s in their drinking water.

The new proposed PFAS drinking water standards would set limits of 10 parts per trillion (ppt) for four individual, newly regulated PFAS and 30 ppt combined for all six regulated PFAS. However, those limits would still allow detectable levels of these PFAS to remain in drinking water. This means that risky levels of contamination might still remain in our drinking water. At least half a million New Yorkers — including many in the Hudson Valley — are currently exposed to detectable levels of PFAS contamination in drinking water. Therefore, Riverkeeper urged DOH to set more protective standards, so that these communities would be required to filter contaminants – and they could access state grants and loans to cover the costs. With DOH’s proposal, too many communities will be left without the requirement or the financial support to reduce contamination levels. The department will review public comments and – we hope – include these more protective standards into the final regulations.

Thank you again for all our members who stood up to tell DOH that every single New Yorker deserves to have clean, safe drinking water. Together we’ll keep pushing for the protections we need and deserve.