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New York eighth in nation in sites possibly contaminated by PFA chemicals, advocates say

The North Massapequa FD responded to a report

The North Massapequa FD responded to a report of a truck fire Friday July 29, 2016 using foam to contain the fire. Toxic chemicals known as PFAs are sometimes found in firefighting foam.   Credit: Jim Staubitser

New York ranks 8th among the 50 states that altogether have 120,000 possible sites releasing potentially carcinogenic PFA class chemicals used in everything from cooking pans to firefighter foam, advocates said Tuesday.

Suffolk has 286 sites on an interactive map created by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Farmingdale nonprofit.

The Public Employees group, a Silver Spring, Maryland-based nonprofit trying to improve worker safeguards, sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after it failed to release either its data on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or its own map — despite promises to do so, said the group’s director of science policy, Kayla Bennett.

The EPA had no immediate comment.

Citing the map, Esposito, who joined Bennett on a conference call with reporters, said Nassau has 159 sites, for a Long Island total of 445 of potential spots where PFAS may have been used or are being used, possibly polluting the air and even the drinking water.

Bennett and Esposito both stressed that all those dots on the map, released last month, were not confirmed sources of PFA pollution, but only potential sites. Yet the real total may be even higher.

"Just because there’s a dot on the map it doesn’t mean it definitely has PFAS, but we believe this map is actually a vast underestimate," Bennett said.

Nassau's list was dominated by electronics firms, with 41 sites, and 21 metal coaters, Esposito said. PFAS had been a boon to cookware makers using it to make non-stick pots and pans.

Suffolk’s list was led by 68 electronics enterprises and 54 waste management firms, Esposito said. The county also is home to the former Calverton naval weapons plant where Suffolk health officials say perfluorinated compounds were found in nearly 15% of nearby private drinking wells; the Navy said no sample exceeded federal health advisory levels.

New York State’s total of 3,500 potential sites where PFAS might have been used in manufacturing, incinerated, discharged into often nearby tributaries, lakes and other bodies of water, works out to 2.92% of the total number of sites around the nation.

Suffolk has some existing Superfund sites including Westhampton’s Francis S. Gabreski Airport and Suffolk County’s Fire Academy in Yaphank.

Esposito and Bennett both targeted their criticisms at the EPA, saying its inaction and slow-walking the release of stricter regulations to halt the contamination was forcing New York, along with Massachusetts, California, Maine, for instance, to enact their own measures.

As remedies, the science policy director called on the EPA to abandon plans to spend decades individually examining possible harm caused by the myriad varieties of PFAS, and instead regulate them as one class.

Following Europe’s approach, any continuing use could be limited to essential purposes, such as medical or firefighting equipment until better options are found, Bennett said.

Esposito urged New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign bills enacted this year by the legislature requiring every state water supplier "to test for 40 emerging contaminants, including dozens of PFAS chemicals."

The governor's office had no immediate comment. The state DEC, by email, said it had begun similar surveys five years ago and already melded the new map into its "statewide, science-based investigations underway to safeguard public health and rapidly respond whenever these emerging contaminants are detected in a water supply."

While some states, such as California set lower, and thus stricter standards for their tests, the DEC said New York's gauge of 10 parts per trillion is much lower "than the current federal drinking water health advisory level" of 70 parts per trillion.

The map lists Colorado as having the highest number of possible sites, 21,000, with California second with 13,000, Oklahoma at 11,900 and Texas fourth with around 6,500.

Below New York were Florida at 3,000 and Louisiana at 2,900.

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