NY Works to Make Drinking Water Safer

New York is leading the nation in protecting the state’s drinking water from chemical contaminants linked to cancer even as the Trump administration is moving the nation backward when it comes to keeping drinking water safe.

Last month, New York’s Drinking Water Quality Council recommended the state set the toughest limits in the nation on PFOS, PFOA, and 1,4 dioxane, toxic chemicals that are contaminating millions of Americans’ tap water.

The council set maximum contaminant levels of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, as well as one part per billion for 1,4 dioxane. These standards would be the strictest in the nation if adopted by the NYS Department of Health, which is expected soon.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month decided to not set a drinking water limit for PFOA and PFOS and has missed regulatory deadlines set by the Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires the EPA to identify unregulated contaminants to monitor them.

In response to the EPA’s inaction, three water safety groups, the Waterkeeper Alliance, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, and California Coastkeeper Alliance, are suing the EPA for failing to meet its mandated requirements and unnecessarily putting people’s health and lives at risk.

The suit points out how the EPA’s inaction on many fronts contradicts earlier positions the agency has taken on water safety. For example, its decision not to regulate PFOS and PFOA flies in the face of a voluntary health advisory the agency issued in 2016, recommending a lifetime limit in drinking water of 70 parts per trillion for both chemicals. Additionally, federal scientists concluded that PFOA and PFOS pose dangers at extremely low concentrations in a health assessment last summer.

EPA-mandated testing has found the chemicals at unsafe levels in at least 16 million Americans’ tap water.

New York has had first-hand experience with the dangers of PFOS and PFOA; the chemicals raised serious health concerns and uprooted lives in the small towns of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh in 2016 as residents faced a years-long water crisis. These industrial pollutants have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, hypertension and other ailments. More than two years on, these towns are still dealing with the fallout of these contaminants.

It’s up to states like New York to take on leadership roles as the EPA falls behind. Ensuring the quality of our water is at the core of protecting environmental and public health. Billions of dollars are needed to reduce pollution in vital waterways and drinking water sources and to upgrade water infrastructure. NYLCV will continue to the fight for stronger clean water standards and investments in keeping our water safe.