Clean Water Advocates Laud DOH Proposal for PFAS Notification: A Significant Step Forward in Water Transparency

July 13, 2023

Hochul administration proposal would be the most robust drinking water notification program for these toxic “forever chemicals” in the nation

Advocates also urged DOH to support stronger cleanup standards for PFAS

Albany – Clean water advocates today commended the New York State Department of Health (DOH) for their proposal to keep New Yorkers informed about their drinking water quality. At a recent meeting of the NYS Drinking Water Quality Council, DOH proposed establishing Notification Levels for 23 PFAS chemicals at very low levels, between 2 and 5 parts per trillion (ppt) each for all but one PFAS. All water utilities in the state will be obligated to test for these contaminants and alert the public if harmful levels are discovered.

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals”, have been linked to a wide range of harmful health effects, including thyroid disease and kidney and testicular cancer. Drinking water pollution crises across New York have underlined the urgent need for statewide PFAS testing. According to a recent study by the US Geological Survey, at least half of tap water across the country is estimated to be contaminated by PFAS.

The details of DOH’s notification proposal will be discussed and voted on at the next Drinking Water Quality Council meeting, to be held in August or September. Advocates are urging DOH to get the details right, including by requiring notification to renters (who do not usually receive utility mailings) and by providing accurate language on the health effects of exposure to multiple PFAS at the same time.

In addition to notification, advocates are urging DOH to support stronger drinking water cleanup standards, also known as Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), for PFAS. In a recent letter to EPA, DOH questioned the Biden administration’s efforts to develop national PFAS MCLs. For example, DOH did not specifically endorse EPA’s proposed MCLs of 4 ppt each for PFOA and PFOS, which are lower than New York’s current 10 ppt MCLs. At least 1 million New Yorkers are exposed to PFOA and/or PFOS at levels between 4 and 10 ppt, which poses a risk to their health. EPA has determined that there is no safe level of PFOA or PFOS in drinking water.

“Everyone deserves to know what is in their water. This plan to require notification if PFAS is found in drinking water marks a significant victory for transparency,” said Rob Hayes, Director of Clean Water at Environmental Advocates NY. “While this is an important step forward, New York must follow up notification with swift action to make sure any and all contaminated water is made safe to drink.”

Liz Moran, New York Policy Advocate for Earthjustice, said, “The public has the basic right, and expectation, that the water from their taps will be safe and healthy to drink – but key to that is ensuring they know what’s in their drinking water so they can make the best choices for themselves and their families. The Department of Health’s proposal to require public notification whenever 23 different PFAS chemicals are in their drinking water at very low levels will ensure more residents are armed with information.”

Jennifer Rawlison, steering committee member of Newburgh Clean Water Project, said, “The sounding of alarms regarding the PFAS contamination of our own community’s main drinking water supply only came out of national change – and at MCL levels not protective enough. Following the science, there is no reasonable or healthy level of these “forever chemicals” to be present in anyone’s drinking water. The first step to ensuring the health and safety of families across New York State is notification. Being informed empowers NYers to respond if needed to safeguard their community. Notification and health-protective MCLs are key to a healthier New York.”

“The DOH’s proposed shift toward Notification Levels would provide much needed transparency about potential presence of PFAS contamination in our drinking water sources,” said Elizabeth Cute, Program Manager at Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper.  This would allow communities across New York State to be more informed and focus the agency’s attention on cleaning up and eliminating PFAS pollution.”

“We applaud this important first step in notifying the public about the dangers of these toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water”, said Joseph Campbell, President of Seneca Lake Guardian. “There is no safe level of exposure to these compounds. Of course the source of PFAS in drinking water is poorly, if at all, regulated in NY State. That’s why Seneca Lake Guardian stands behind State Senator Rachel May’s bill, the PFAS Discharge Disclosure Act, S227B, and why we urge the Senate and the Assembly to pass the bill during the next legislative session and send it to Governor Hochul’s desk for her signature.”

Kyle Conway, Vice President of the NAACP Newburgh-Highland Falls Chapter, said, “There is no replacement for clean water. It is morally subpar to allow our water to have any remote pollutants for our people to drink. It is illogical that there is a debate on how much pollutants are permissible within our drinking water. If our elected officials would not knowingly drink water out of a dirty glass, then they should not allow people to unknowingly drink polluted water to any degree. Our leaders need to do what is right instead of what is profitable.” 

“Transparency and good public education play a key role in protecting the public from contamination in our drinking water, by ensuring New Yorkers are aware of what’s in their water,” said Victoria Leung, Staff Attorney of (Hudson) Riverkeeper, Inc. “But knowledge alone is not enough, New York must build on this momentum and enact stronger drinking water standards to also keep contamination out of our drinking water.”