Chipping Away at 80K Unregulated Chemicals

The SFY2017-18 budget proved to be a good one for water, with some major victories. One we led the way on, in a battle against the chemical industry, is a package of legislation that provides additional oversight, testing, and protections against rampant industrial chemicals on the market, endangering health, and contaminating water supplies.

Few issues have a more direct impact on people’s health than unregulated and untested contaminants. For instance:

  • in Hoosick Falls, unregulated PFOA meant people sick for years with conditions like preeclampsia, thyroid disease, and several different cancers.
  • in places like Long Island where 1,4 dioxane is found in many water supplies, there’s an increased risk of cancer, and damage to the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys.

Our effort largely came out of the Hoosick Falls water contamination crisis. At times, it appeared the chemical industry was going to win as budget negotiators gravitated towards weaker standards, but thanks to the unrelenting advocacy from Hoosick Falls residents, particularly the moms we work closely with, we won!

All New Yorkers owe them a big thanks – they aren’t fighting just for their community, they’re fighting for all of us.

As always, the details (and implementation) of these plans matter. Here’s our breakdown of these key policy items:

1) Emerging Contaminant Monitoring: The Department of Health (DOH) has now been tasked with creating New York’s own emerging contaminant list and testing all communities, regardless of size, for the chemicals listed.

2) Drinking Water Quality Council: This bill establishes a twelve person (eight of whom would be appointed by the Governor and Legislature), independent council that would have several responsibilities, including:

  • Recommend what substances DOH should include on their emerging contaminant list and what notification levels should be established.
  • Recommend timeframes and frequencies of water testing for emerging contaminants.
  • Create educational materials on private well testing.
  • Evaluate methods of conducting biomonitoring.

There’s one detail in these bills that could be a snag in the expediency and effectiveness of these new policies: for DOH to be able to promulgate an emerging contaminant list and monitoring, the Governor must convene the council.

The clock is ticking – the longer appointments aren’t made and the council isn’t convened, the longer we risk more crises.

Some have concerns that some of the appointees are being made by an administration and a state senate whose response to Hoosick falls has been criticized immensely. That’s why Environmental Advocates is urging appointees who are independent, highly credible, and enter this responsibility with one focus: protecting public health. Anyone with a conflict of interest or unwillingness to advocate protections against the chemical industry has no place being considered.

We have urged the Governor, Senate Leader Flanagan, and Assembly Speaker Heastie to finalize their nominations before the legislature returns from their spring recess. We also asked for the first meeting of the full council to take place no later than May 29th.

With the Trump Administration’s attacks on our water quality – including the Department of Defense’s refusal to accept liability for poisoning the drinking water of 30,000 Newburgh residents, a community with significant populations of black, Hispanic, and non-English as first language people – New York cannot sit on its hands.

There is a history in Albany, when politicians don’t want to deal with an issue, to send it to a commission or task force. This cannot and will not be allowed to happen here. You can help by calling Governor Cuomo, Leader Flanagan, and Speaker Heastie. Tell them “to immediately nominate highly qualified and independent appointees to the Drinking Water Quality Council. ”

  • Governor Cuomo: 518-474-8390
  • Senator Flanagan: 518-455-2071
  • Speaker Heastie: 518-455-3791