Cuomo Must Protect NY Tap Water from Toxic PFOA Chemicals

The state has the power to protect New Yorkers from these dangerous chemicals in our drinking water when EPA will not.

Credit: Darwin Bell/Flickr

On the heels of press reports that Scott Pruitt’s EPA suppressed a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services documenting the danger of two drinking water contaminants, a dozen environmental groups, including NRDC, are calling on Governor Cuomo today to set a tough new standard that will keep these dangerous pollutants—PFOA and PFOS—out of New Yorkers’ drinking water. Our call comes just in time for today’s summit on the chemicals hosted by the EPA, where the director of NRDC’s health program will be the only representative from an NGO speaking.

PFOA and PFOS (shorthand for perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) are toxic, manmade chemicals that are known to be harmful to human health. Since the 1960s, manufacturers used PFOA or PFOS in a wide variety of products, including Teflon, Scotchgard, paper and cardboard food packaging, firefighting foam, textiles, and toothpaste.

These contaminants have been found to harm the liver, increase cholesterol, lower sperm quality, accelerate puberty, delay mammary gland development, and may even cause cancer, among other health effects. Once dumped into the environment, they do not degrade, and once in the human body, they do not leave for years.

New York State has been an epicenter of this contamination crisis—from Upstate to Long Island. In Hoosick Falls, for example, concentrations of PFOA and PFOS in the blood of residents were found to be about 10 times the national average. Elevated levels of PFOA and PFOS have also been found in New Windsor, Fort Drum, Hempstead, Petersburgh, Newburgh, Hampton Bays, Cambridge, and Yaphank, and may well be found in other communities across the state.

Over the course of the past year, NRDC has conducted a detailed review of PFOA and PFOS contamination. Based on an NRDC-commissioned analysis prepared by a former Chief Scientist at the Environmental Protection Bureau of the New York State Office of the Attorney General and former Section Chief of Environmental Research at the New York State Department of Health, Judith Schreiber, Ph.D., the signatory environmental groups are asking Cuomo to set an enforceable state standard for PFOA and PFOS of between 4 to 10 parts per trillion. (The EPA-suppressed study reportedly recommends setting a standard at a similar level.)

In light of federal inaction, a handful of states are already taking affirmative action to regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, including New Jersey (pending MCL for PFOA at 14 ppt), and Vermont (combined groundwater enforcement standard of 20 ppt). New York should do the same.

Our groups' request is especially timely not only in light of news of the suppressed report and EPA’s summit today, but because a State Drinking Water Quality Council established by Governor Cuomo has for months been considering whether or not to adopt a standard for PFOA and PFOS, and if so, at what level.

The state has the power to protect New Yorkers from these dangerous chemicals in our drinking water when EPA will not. Now is the time for Governor Cuomo and his State Health Department to act by adopting a stringent new limit for these two toxic chemicals that threaten people’s health in communities all across the State.

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