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NY legislator: State should join Suffolk in suing over contaminants

County lawsuit aims at getting manufacturers to pay for treatment costs after the discovery of harmful chemicals in water supply.

Adrienne Esposito, center, of Citizens Campaign for the

Adrienne Esposito, center, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, testifies on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, during a Manhattan hearing on water quality improvement efforts. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The chairman of the New York Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee urged the state on Monday to join Suffolk’s water authority in suing manufacturers of harmful contaminants found in the county’s public wells.

Last week, the Suffolk County Water Authority filed two federal lawsuits against Dow Chemical Co., the 3M Co., and nine other manufacturers and distributors of firefighting foams, industrial degreasers, laundry detergents and other household products, claiming they contained harmful chemicals that polluted the county’s public water supply.

The lawsuits seek an unspecified amount of money to aid with water treatment costs.

Newsday reached out to the eleven companies named in the lawsuit after it was filed Thursday, but they either declined to comment or did not return calls seeking comment.

Assem. Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket), speaking at a committee hearing in Manhattan, said having the state Department of Environmental Conservation join the water authority’s lawsuit, or pursue their own, would be a “very effective way” to get the manufacturers to stop using the man-made chemicals in their products.

“It sends a signal: ‘Don’t do that, because you’ll have to face the music later if you do,’ ” Englebright told Julie Tighe, the acting chief of staff for the DEC who testified at the hearing.

Asked by Englebright if the DEC would pursue a lawsuit to recover costs involved with decontaminating the region’s water supply, Tighe said: “we are evaluating every option.”

“Our primary goal and objective by statute is to make sure that the polluter pays, so certainly we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that the polluter is paying for any remediation that is necessary,” Tighe said.

In two separate product liability lawsuits filed in U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip, the water authority, which serves 1.2 million Suffolk residents, said it found in its water supply 1,4-dioxane, a man-made chemical widely found as a byproduct in cleaning and personal care products. The authority also found perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, ingredients in foams once commonly used in fire suppression, according to the lawsuit. All three chemicals have the potential to cause cancer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said.

Englebright made his recommendation at a five-hour hearing on the $2.5 billion water infrastructure improvement plan approved by the state legislature earlier this year. The multi-year plan, which includes $75 million for septic system replacement funding in Suffolk, was signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in April.

Environmental advocates who testified at the meeting, lauded the funding. Several advocates who attended said they were concerned the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the EPA would jeopardize future initiatives. President Donald Trump has called for a 30-percent cut to the EPA’s $8 billion budget.

“We have an administration in Washington that is talking a lot about how we’re going to make America great again — you can’t do that with dirty water,” Englebright said.

— with Chau Lam

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