New York Adopts Drinking Water Standards For Three Emerging Contaminants

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ALBANY, NY (WAMC) – New York state Thursday adopted maximum contaminant levels for three chemicals in drinking water. Environmental and community advocates wanted to see lower levels adopted, and more PFAS chemicals included, but say it’s a good start. One of the limits is a national first.

The Public Health and Health Planning Council’s Committee on Codes, Regulations and Legislation voted to adopt the maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, of 10 parts per trillion each for PFOA and PFOS, emerging contaminants found in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, respectively; and 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane. New York will have the nation’s first MCL for 1,4-Dioxane. The state Health Department received more than 5,000 comments when the MCLs were initially proposed, with many comments from environmentalists urging the MCLs be set lower or that PFAS be regulated as a class of chemicals. Brad Hutton is state Health Department deputy commissioner for the Office of Public Health.

“We’ll continue the monitor the human and animal studies for these different classes of contaminants. This’ll be a continued discussion item with the Drinking Water Quality Council,” Hutton says. “I think these are still historic and appropriate and protective drinking water standards that will protect New Yorkers for decades to come. And if there’s a change in science that warrants an additional review and modification in the future, of course we’ll always be open to that.”

Rob Hayes is clean water associate at Environmental Advocates NY.

“The Department of Health seemed open to reviewing these regulations in the future, and we certainly hope that they do. We were disappointed at not hearing a specific timetable that they might be reviewing those regs on,” says Hayes. “One thing that we have pointed out in our advocacy, we are extremely supportive of the Department lowering these standards over time. We know that we are only addressing two PFAS chemicals out of a class of almost 5,000, so to truly protect New Yorkers’ drinking water and fully protect public health, we will need to expand these protections going forward.”

Dr. Roger Sokol is DOH’s director of the Division of Environmental Health Protection in the Department’s Center for Environmental Health. Ahead of the vote, he explained that public water systems will be required to conduct initial monitoring for the three chemicals.

“This initial monitoring will include quarterly sampling for up to one year. Water systems that detect these contaminants but are below the MCLs will be required to continue routine quarterly monitoring frequency,” says Sokol. “Systems without detections will follow a reduced monitoring schedule related to system size.”

In January, DOH revised rule making that allows water systems to request a deferral from the violation. The deferral provision drew more than 2,000 public comments. Opponents said the deferral provision would cause delays in compliance. Here’s Sokol:

“The deferral provision will not cause unnecessary delays in compliance with these new MCLs.   The deferral provision just defers the issuance of a violation notice. It is intended only for those public water suppliers that have proactively sampled, know that they will be in violation of the proposed MCLs when they were adopted and have a corrective action plan in place,” Sokol says. “As a condition of deferral, the public water system, must compose a compliance timetable and issue a public notice within 30 days of receiving the deferral.”

He says the deferral is only available for 90 days after the MCLs are adopted. Water suppliers generally support this provision. The deferral provision is part of the now adopted regulations. One opponent of the new MCLs is the American Chemistry Council, which says the MCLs are too precautionary, and that DOH ignored the best available science and economic impacts. Hutton says the regulations should be published in the State Register in a few weeks.

“Technically, it does require the commissioner’s approval, and then we file them with the Department of State to publish them in the State Register. Both of those are expected to happen imminently,” says Hutton. “And upon publication in the State Register, then the 60-day, 90-day and six-month time clocks will start for the time it takes before systems need to begin monitoring.”

Water systems serving 10,000 people or more will be required to begin testing within 60 days; systems serving between 3,300 and 9,999 people within 90 days; and systems serving few than 3,300 people within six months. Thursday’s vote had been postponed twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an advisory level for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion.