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LI senator to propose creation of Drinking Water Quality Institute

Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), right, chairman of

Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), right, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, and Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) discuss testimony during a hearing on water quality in the William H. Rogers Building in Hauppauge on Sept. 12, 2016. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

State Sen. Kemp Hannon said Wednesday he plans to file legislation that would create a state Drinking Water Quality Institute focused on examining and regulating emerging contaminants.

The Garden City Republican, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said the institute would address public health concerns that were raised during a series of hearings last year about water quality and contaminated drinking supplies.

Chief among the topics discussed was the discovery of perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, in the water supplies of the upstate Village of Hoosick Falls and conflicting information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the risk of exposure to the compound, which is not regulated, he said.

Such an entity could set a list of compounds for which all state water suppliers would have to conduct tests, as well as establish a clear notification process when unregulated contaminants were detected.

“Whatever is being done now falls so short of the mark that we’re going to have this recurring down the road,” Hannon said.

Every five years, EPA requires all large suppliers and a sampling of small ones to test for up to 30 compounds that are not regulated by drinking water standards. The intent is to get a sense of what contaminants are in water supplies to see if more action is warranted, such as additional health studies or setting a regulation.

PFOA was on the EPA’s list and showed up throughout New York, including near Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach. The possible carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane also was acutely present on Long Island, EPA data shows.

The Senate Health and Environmental Conservation committees released a report Tuesday stemming from the hearings that outlines issues facing the state and makes recommendations to better protect residents. Those included forming the water quality institute, as well as creating a bond act to help small communities and rural areas improve water infrastructure to address contamination concerns.

Hannon said establishing the institute would be the first action to be taken and he plans to file legislation within 10 days.

He said it’s unclear if the institute would be within the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Health or a separate entity.

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who chairs that chamber’s Environmental Conservation Committee, said he supports having more people look at a problem and properly fund staff to do so, but that a separate entity could delay progress.

“We really don’t need to invent a parallel universe,” he said. “It would not be effective to start over on the mission we’ve already assigned to these agencies.”

In a joint statement, the state DEC and the Health Department said the governor’s rapid response team, formed last year, is “taking aggressive actions to identify and confront emerging water contaminants” and that the agencies look forward to working with the legislature to “increase investment in water infrastructure and source water protection.”

Funding and jurisdiction will be key, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which has offices on the Island and elsewhere in the state.

“There is a clear and growing need for the state to rapidly address emerging contaminants,” she said. “We need any new entity to be streamlined and work with existing entities and be funded. It has to be a streamlined approach so agencies aren’t squabbling over jurisdiction.”

Massapequa Water District Superintendent Stan Carey, who also is chairman of the Long Island Water Conference, said the industry welcomes efforts to ensure water quality is protected, but “a funding source must be part of any solution which aims to respond to water quality emergencies in a timely manner.”

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