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New law gives more time for water suppliers to sue polluters

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the law Monday.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the law Monday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a new law Monday that will give public water suppliers more leverage in pursuing lawsuits against polluters.

The measure clarifies the time frame in which water providers, such as county or town water authorities, may sue polluters for contamination. The three-year statute of limitations now will commence once contamination is discovered, instead of when it occurred.

The old standard effectively had discouraged lawsuits, officials have said, in part because of the typical lag between occurrence and discovery.

The new standard will help water suppliers, and taxpayers, recoup millions of dollars in contamination cleanup costs, supporters said.

“Polluters need to be held responsible for their actions and, with this measure, we are closing an unacceptable loophole that let them skate for far too long,” Cuomo said in a statement.

At least 22 Long Island water providers and governments have filed federal lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors over water contamination.

Most recently, the Dix Hills Water Authority and the Town of Huntington sued Dow Chemical Co., Ferro Corp. and Vulcan Materials Co. regarding 1,4-dioxane contamination. None of the companies immediately responded to a request for comment on Monday.

The statute of limitations has come into play in some cases on Long Island.

In 2018, the Bethpage Water District lost a claim against Northrop Grumman when a federal appeals court determined it had waited too long to sue.

“This new law will ensure that polluters, not ratepayers, pay for the costs of treating and containing contamination in the water supply, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in recourse to water authorities at a time when funding is desperately needed to treat emerging contaminants like 1,4-dioxane,” said Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Huntington), who sponsored the bill along with Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor).

The State Legislature approved the bill in June. 

Gaughran, who formerly led the Suffolk County Water Authority, has said the new law could result in local water authorities and governments recovering hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs from polluters.

Ty Fuller, chairman of the Long Island Water Conference, said: "Providing water suppliers with this essential tool strengthens our ability to fight polluters over contamination and allows us to pursue litigation to recoup for money already spent on necessary treatment."

The new law takes effect immediately.

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