New York Passes Bills to Reduce Drinking Water Contamination

As the 2019 New York legislative session came to a close in mid-June, the legislature passed many pro-environment bills including the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CCPA). Two other important pieces of environmental legislation geared at addressing the emerging drinking-water crisis across the state also passed. The bills (Senate – S. 439-A and S. 4389-B, Assembly A. 445 and A. 6295) tackle two of the most pressing threats to the safety of our drinking water, PFAS and 1,4 Dioxane contamination, both of which lack regulation at the federal level. 

According to a recent report by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), at least 2 million New Yorkers drink water with some level of PFAS contamination and nearly 12 million New Yorkers drink water with some level of 1,4 Dioxane contamination. Long Island has some of the highest 1,4 Dioxane levels in the country. The potential health risks associated with each contaminant are well-known. PFAS chemicals have been linked with low birth weight, delayed puberty onset, elevated cholesterol levels, liver function changes, and reduced immunologic responses to vaccination. 1,4 Dioxane is classified as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA, with the potential to cause nasal and liver tumors. 

Thankfully, the two recently-passed bills seek to cut out current and future contamination of these harmful chemicals at their source. In the case of PFAS, firefighting foams, which harness the flame retardant properties of the compound, are a key source of the contaminant. S. 439-A and A. 445, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Phil Steck, curtail this source of PFAS pollution by effectively banning the use of PFAS-based firefighting foam across the state. 

There has also been some progress on the federal level where a complementary movement to address the crisis is underway. Already this year, two dozen bills have been introduced seeking to increase research and monitoring while setting stricter guidelines on maximum levels of PFAS contaminants. NYLCV lobbied on behalf of this flotilla of legislation during the national LCV lobby day in June and believe that the meaningful action taken against PFAS in New York will help to bolster the likelihood of stronger federal PFAS legislation. 

1,4 Dioxane is found predominantly in household products such as cosmetics, detergents, deodorants, and shampoos. As these products are washed down our sewer system, they pose a serious risk of seeping into our waterways and drinking water. S. 4398-B and A. 6295, sponsored by Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, ban the sale of any product containing the chemical across the entire state. Unlike PFAS contamination, however, 1,4 Dioxane lacks promise of any federal regulation in the near future with the FDA only encouraging but not requiring manufacturers to remove the contaminant. Such an oversight lends even greater importance to the passage of S. 4398-B and A. 6295 by the State. 

Both the legislation geared towards PFAS and 1,4 Dioxane contamination passed with near-unanimous support in both chambers of the State Legislature late last month positioning New York as a national leader in addressing both contaminants.  

Action to regulate water contaminants has also been taken by New York State administratively. Earlier this month, the Department of Health accepted the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council’s recommendations for maximum contaminant levels in drinking water for PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane. The standards of 10 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA, and 1 part per billion for 1,4-dioxane will be the strictest in the nation.

NYLCV will continue to advocate for policies that protect our waterways and reduce emerging contaminants from our environment.