A coalition of 40 environmental groups, including three from Long Island, is urging New York to align state drinking water standards with EPA recommendations on toxic household chemicals found in such items as cookware, cosmetics and carpeting.
The campaign comes weeks after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to designate two of the most common toxic compounds — PFOA and PFOS — as hazardous.
The State Department of Health was required by the EPA to publish draft regulations by June 19 establishing new drinking water standards for the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS — which had been used in nonstick frying pans, water-repellent sports gear and stain-resistant rugs. The department has yet to publish the draft.
“The EPA made clear that there is no safe level of exposure to dangerous PFAS chemicals in drinking water,” said Brian Smith, associate executive director for the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which signed onto a letter Monday to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“New York led the nation when they adopted standards for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water," Smith said. "However, new science reveals that our current standards are inadequate to protect public health."
New York’s Maximum Contaminant Levels for PFOA and PFOS — which have been voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers but still remain in the environment because they do not degrade over time — currently allows up to 10 parts-per-trillion of each chemical in drinking water. That's 10 times higher than what the EPA now says is safe.
On Long Island, PFOA and PFOS have been found in hundreds of public and private wells since around 2016. Water providers bring contaminants down to nondetectable levels in the water supply using granular activated carbon filters.
In the advocates' letter, they urged Hochul to bring New York's drinking water standards on the PFAS in line with EPA advisories, or as close to zero as possible. The state is required to provide public notification and drinking water cleanup if Maximum Content Levels are exceeded.
“Our research has demonstrated the enormous health and economic costs of not getting PFAS out of drinking water," said Leonardo Trasande, director of the NYU Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards. "Now that EPA has released their new PFAS health advisories, it’s time for New York to act."
In a statement, the State Health Department said it is continuing to evaluate how the EPA’s new health advisory guidance for PFAS contaminants complements New York’s drinking water standards "and looks forward to EPA’s release of proposed standards later this year."
"Until then," the statement said, "New York will work closely with EPA on their PFAS guidance, while upholding the strictest regulatory standards possible and using the best available science to ensure protections for water quality and public health."
The advocates identified 440,000 New Yorkers in 20 communities across the state — none on Long island — with PFAS contamination at levels exceeding state standards. Exposure to the compounds may lead to cancer or other health problems, experts said.
“PFAS pose one of the greatest threats to public health today," said David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany.