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Long IslandEnvironment

EPA leader calls water contaminants a challenge 'of our generation'

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency regional director Peter

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency regional director Peter Lopez speaks to members of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, during a breakfast in Melville on Thursday. Credit: Johnny Milano

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional head told a Long Island business group Thursday that the agency is finalizing a report on emerging contaminants found in drinking water, but said he couldn’t comment on whether the agency will set enforceable standards for the contaminants.

“My understanding is they are driving toward it,” Peter Lopez, the regional administrator, said at a Long Island Association breakfast in Melville.

In remarks  in which he emphasized a regulatory philosophy that weighs environmental protection with economic growth, he called the issue of emerging contaminants "one of the greatest challenges I feel of our generation."

The agency has been under fire from environmentalists and lawmakers over reports that the  it won’t set a drinking water standard for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), found in firefighting foams, and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used in manufacturing and water-resistant and stain-resistant materials. According to the EPA, exposure to PFOA and PFOS has been linked to testicular and kidney cancers, liver damage and developmental effects to fetuses or breast-fed infants, such as low birth weight and accelerated puberty.

The New York State Department of Health is considering setting maximum contaminant levels for both PFOA and PFOS, as well as 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen, that has been found more widely across Long Island.

Lopez, a former Republican assemblyman from upstate, said while products such as nonstick pans and water-resistant fabrics had beneficial impacts, the chemicals "may have persistent and damaging effects on us."

On Monday, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged the EPA to set strict limits on a pair of toxic chemicals and threatened to hold up the nomination of acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Republican state senators from Long Island on Wednesday called for the state to "immediately" set the standard for PFOA and PFOS.

Also, Lopez downplayed the chances of oil and gas drilling occurring off Long Island's coast, telling LIA president and chief executive officer Kevin Law that while the decision rests with the Department of the Interior, "My sense is there's some rethinking going on" because of local opposition on the East Coast.

Lopez said he believed the agency should work with businesses, where possible, on enforcement actions.

"Our goal is to find out what is it about regulatory environment that hinders the potential for our economic engine to run effectively," Lopez said. "Again, we're looking at the balancing act . . . What do we do to be protective, but also ensure there's enough room to be protective and make sure there's enough flexibility for entrepreneurs to engage."

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