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LI's congressional delegation calls on EPA to move faster on drinking water standards

Reps. Peter King, Kathleen Rice and Lee Zeldin

Reps. Peter King, Kathleen Rice and Lee Zeldin at a news conference in East Meadow on Tuesday urging for tougher EPA standards for drinking water. Credit: Howard Schnapp

As the state prepares to recommend drinking water standards for emerging contaminants, Long Island’s congressional delegation called Tuesday for the federal government to set its own standards and help local governments pay for treatment.

“We ask the Environmental Protection Agency to act with urgency,” Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said at the Town of Hempstead's water department. “This situation requires increased technical support and financial support” for water providers.

Rice was joined by Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford), Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove);  Nassau County Executive Laura Curran; Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen; environmental advocates and water providers.

The bipartisan turnout “shows this is a full-court press,” King said.

New York State has been developing drinking water standards for 1,4 dioxane; and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), which is found in firefighting foams, and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used in manufacturing stain- and water-resistant materials. 

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told Newsday it was a “matter of weeks” before the state Department of Health released its recommended drinking water standards. That would trigger a monthslong public comment period before the standard becomes enforceable.

Local water providers face massive cleanup costs to remove 1,4-dioxane, PFOS and PFOA, which scientists have linked to negative health effects, including cancer, and have been detected in drinking water.  

Long Island water providers have estimated it will cost $1.5 billion to remove the three emerging contaminants. 

An analysis last month of federal data by the New York Public Interest Group found that Long Island’s drinking water had the most emerging contaminants in New York State.

Ty Fuller, chairman of the Long Island Water Conference, said the federal testing requirement didn't include communities served by smaller water providers such as upstate Hoosick Falls, which has been dealing with PFAS contamination in its drinking water.

“It’s not the most contaminated, it’s the most tested,” said Fuller, who is also Suffolk County Water Authority's director of strategic initiatives and lead hydrogeologist of Long Island's drinking water. “A lack of testing does not mean a lack of contamination.”

Elizabeth Moran, environmental policy director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said, “The simple truth is Long Island’s sole source aquifer is susceptible to contamination because of a lot of development and industrial legacy.” 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, “We’re not just testing more here. We’re finding more here.”

The EPA has said it's studying the health effects of PFAS to determine a national drinking water standard.

EPA spokesman Elías Rodríguez said in a statement, "EPA appreciates the congressional delegation’s interest and commitment to the community. EPA shares that commitment to protect public health and the environment and we are working to develop a response to the members."

Zeldin criticized the EPA for not yet responding to a letter from the delegation sent June 7, asking for the agency to provide greater assistance to Long Island water providers. A federal standard would help Long Island authorities when dealing with federal agencies like the Department of Defense on issues like cleanup around military sites, he said.

Moran said the standards recommended in December by a panel of experts convened by Cuomo are not as stringent as the latest science suggests is necessary to protect public health.

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