The drinking water on Long Island has "by far" the...

The drinking water on Long Island has "by far" the most emerging contaminants of any region in the state, according to a review by the New York Public Interest Research Group. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Members of Long Island's congressional delegation are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately set maximum contaminant levels for Nassau and Suffolk  counties' drinking water, which a watchdog group found to be the most contaminated in the state.

"The quality of water being supplied to Long Island homes has been seriously compromised by a unique combination of contaminants and pollutants, necessitating immediate intervention from the Environmental Protection Agency," wrote Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Peter King (R-Seaford), Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), in a letter Friday to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The move comes on the heels of a study issued last week by the Albany-based New York Public Interest Research Group, which found that 19 "distinct emerging contaminants" were detected in Long Island's drinking water between 2013 and 2016. According to the group's study, Long Island has the most contaminated drinking water in New York State.

Nassau has the highest number of water systems in the state with detected emerging contaminants, the report found. They include 1,4 dioxane, a solvent used to keep machinery greased that is also a byproduct of certain personal-care products. The EPA has said 1,4 dioxane probably is a carcinogen. 

The report also found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in Long Island's water supplies. The chemicals, used for decades to manufacture cleaning products, carpeting, Teflon cookware and industrial-strength firefighting foam, have been linked to testicular and kidney cancers, liver damage, and developmental effects in fetuses and breast-fed infants.

The group's study noted the use of the firefighting foam during training exercises, "such as those undertaken at the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton and Gabreski Air National Guard Base, have been known to introduce chemicals, such as PFAS, into the surrounding ground water potentially contaminating drinking supplies."

At the standard recommended by the state, an estimated 23 percent of public water wells in New York would need treatment — at a cost of $855 million in capital costs and $45 million a year for annual maintenance and operations, according to state officials, who also noted that a carbon filtration treatment system, alone, costs approximately $1 million per impacted well.

"The combination of all these challenges presents a serious threat to drinking water and public health for all Long Islanders, and I therefore urge you to develop a maximum contaminant level for PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4 dioxane as soon as possible," the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which also seeks federal funding and technical support for Long Island water providers and regulators.

The EPA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Upon release of the study, the NYPIRG, included a few recommendations, which are in line with the lawmakers’ request. They were: implement testing of the emerging contaminants for every water system maintained by the public, strengthen standards for potentially unsafe chemicals, mandate testing of private household wells and bar the use of certain chemicals until proved safe.

Emerging contaminants are those that previously were not known, were not detectable with available science or were not present in the supply, according to Christopher Gobler, marine sciences professor at Stony Brook University.

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