Environmental group calls on New York to pass strict new drinking water standards

The Citizens Campaign for the Environment is calling on New York State to pass strict new drinking water standards sooner rather than later, saying that people are drinking water that is classified as safe under current standards, but will be considered unsafe once new standards take effect.

“We’re at a pivotal crossroads in deciding the future safety of our groundwater,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of CCE, a nonprofit environmental organization.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ms. Esposito was joined by Kelly McClinchy of Manorville and Bill Pavone of Seaford, both of whom have residential wells that have been contaminated by plumes from former Navy/ Grumman sites in Calverton and Bethpage, respectively.

“Myself and 63 other homes and businesses in this small area rely on private wells in order to get our drinking water,” Ms. McClinchy said. “The Navy has told us in no uncertain terms that they will not test our wells.

“We primarily use bottled water for drinking,” she added. “But you’re washing dishes, showering, brushing your teeth — there’s no way for us to avoid using your water. It’s something that we’re anxious about every day on a daily basis.”

The New York State Department of Health, she said, is set to release new drinking water standards next month for three emerging toxic chemicals: 1,4-dioxane, PFOA and PFOS. The last two fall under the category of PFAS, man-made compounds often found in firefighting foam and other products. The contaminant 1,4-dioxane, is found in cosmetics, detergents and shampoos and, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is considered an irritant to the eyes and respiratory tract and may cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys.

PFAS have also been used in stain-resistant carpeting, nonstick cookware and food packaging, among other uses, and have led to such health impacts as increased cholesterol levels, changes in growth, learning and behavior in developing fetuses and immune system changes.

There are currently no federally enforceable standards for any of these contaminants, according to Ms. Esposito.

There’s a “generic standard” for 1,4-dioxane and a federal advisory goal of 70 parts per trillion for PFAS.

The state Department of Health’s Drinking Water Quality Council has proposed tightening the standard for PFAS to 10 parts per trillion.

“They were previously due to be set in December, and that timeline as slipped, and now it’s April,” Ms. Esposito said. The CCE is calling on the state to adopt a combined standard of 2 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, meaning that if the levels of parts per trillion were at 9 under the current proposal, they would be within the proposed standard of 10. What CCE is proposing would put the combined level in that example at 18 parts per trillion.

CCE also opposed a proposal to allow water districts to seek a delay in the implementation of the new standards.

The Suffolk County Health Department, working with the Suffolk County Water Authority, recently agreed to test the private wells in Manorville for a wide range of contaminants beginning in April.

Ms. Esposito said that if the new standards are not in place by then, “we’ll get a whole different perspective about the safety of the water” if tests are done under the current standard rather than the proposed standard.

Recently, some Riverhead Town officials have expressed concern that the Suffolk County Water Authority is trying to “take over” Riverhead’s water district.

Ms. Esposito said the county heath department is willing to do well testing at no cost to homeowners, but needs SCWA to test for PFOA and PFOS because it lacks the proper equipment.

Ms. McClinchy said residents have been asking Riverhead for years to hook them up to public water but have been denied.

“The bottom line is, we just want clean water,” she said.

Erin Silk, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, issued this statement Wednesday: “In the absence of federal leadership, and to protect our communities, New York State is in the final stages of adopting among the most stringent water safety standards in the nation for the emerging contaminants PFOS and PFOA, as well as the nation’s firstever maximum contaminant level for 1,4-dioxane. New York State agencies are also undertaking what is arguably the nation’s most comprehensive investigation of potential sources of contamination by these chemicals.

“The Drinking Water Quality Council’s recommendation of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA/PFOS and 1.0 parts per billion for 1,4-dioxane is based on the best available science and input from expert stakeholders. After reviewing more than 5,000 comments under the statutory public comment period, a revised rule is now out for comment until March 9. We intend to put forth amended regulations at the April 2, 2020, meeting of the Public Health and Health Planning Council, which authorizes rulemaking under New York State’s Sanitary Code.”