New York Must Step Up PFOA and PFOS Protection

Guest post by Julia Li, Legal Fellow, NRDC

The New York State Drinking Water Quality Council is moving to regulate PFOA and PFOS, a positive direction for protecting New Yorkers’ drinking water from these toxic “forever chemicals.” But an additional provision in the proposed regulation will allow water suppliers to delay implementation of treatment that can start now.

PFOA and PFOS are linked with serious health effects including cancer, hormone disruption, liver and kidney damage, developmental and reproductive harm, changes in serum lipid levels, and immune system toxicity. The chemicals are associated with cancer and developmental harm even at low levels of exposure.

Since the 1940s, PFOA and PFOS have been widely used in consumer products and industrial settings, including in nonstick cookware (e.g., Teflon), stain-resistant carpets and fabric (e.g., Scotchgard and Stainmaster), paper and cardboard food packaging (e.g., fast food wrappers), textiles (e.g., Gore-Tex), toothpaste, shampoos, cosmetics, polishes, waxes, and more. 

PFAS are “forever chemicals” because they remain in the environment and bioaccumulate in our bodies. Even low PFOA and PFOS concentrations in drinking water are associated with substantial increases in blood levels. 

The latest draft regulations will allow water systems to request a deferral from complying with the Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) set by New York State for up to 24 months. Delay continues if the water system requests a renewal of the deferral for an additional 12 months after that. This can prevent water systems from installing the proper technology to treat PFOA and PFOS, continuing to leave New Yorkers at risk for serious adverse health effects. 

Julia Li, a legal fellow with NRDC's New York Regional program made the following comments at the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council's public meeting on Tuesday, February 4, 2020:

Good afternoon. My name is Julia Li and I am a legal fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Thank you for your actions to make drinking water safer for New Yorkers.

The proposed regulation for PFOA and PFOS is a critical step in getting rid of the toxic chemicals in our drinking water. But there is more to be done. 

First, we oppose the provision that allows water systems to request deferrals from compliance with the MCLs. Deferring treatment will only slow the installation of treatment technology, leaving toxic chemicals in our water for longer.

We have the technology now, and the technology is feasible, taking cost into consideration. Granular Activated Carbon is widely used to treat PFOA and PFOS. For example, this treatment has been installed in Petersburgh, NY, and it is effectively removing PFOA from the town’s water supply to non-detectable levels.

Second, the Department should set the MCL for PFOA and PFOS at a combined standard, rather than the individual standards currently proposed.

It is the combined level of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water that is most predictive of serious health risks. Therefore, it is the combined level that the Department needs to target.

Finally, even extremely low levels of exposure may cause serious health effects. We urge the Department to finalize MCLs for PFOA and PFOS at a combined concentration of 2 ppt (parts per trillion). The weight of the evidence demonstrates that this standard is not only more protective of human health, but it is also feasible. Technology has been demonstrated to both detect and treat PFOA and PFOS to below 2 ppt.

We urge the Department to take these actions to ensure that drinking water protection is moving in the right direction. Remove the deferral provision and set the MCL at a combined standard of 2 ppt for PFOA and PFOS. This ensures the best possible protection of health using the most feasible methods available. Thank you for your time.

About the Authors

Kimberly Ong

Senior Attorney, NY Regional, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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