Clean Water Advocates Urge Gov. Hochul and NYS Department of Health to Prioritize New Yorkers’ Health Over Chemical Industry Polluters

Call on Hochul Administration to Fully Notify New Yorkers about Toxic PFAS Chemicals in Their Water

Albany, NY – Ahead of the NYS Drinking Water Quality Council meeting, (being held today at 10:30am and can be viewed here) clean water advocates are once again calling on Governor Hochul and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) to ensure that New Yorkers are fully informed about the presence of toxic PFAS chemicals in their drinking water. The call to action emphasizes the need for stringent Notification Levels for PFAS, ensuring that residents are promptly informed whenever they are exposed to these hazardous “forever chemicals” in their tap water.

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” for their persistent nature, represent one of the most significant threats to our drinking water. Even minimal exposure to these chemicals has been associated with severe health complications, including liver disease, immune system damage, and kidney and testicular cancer. Despite New York’s efforts to address PFAS contamination, over a million residents remain exposed to levels deemed unsafe by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

At the last meeting of the Council in June, DOH proposed setting Notification Levels for 23 PFAS chemicals at very low, health-protective levels (generally between 2 and 5 parts per trillion). All water utilities will be required to test for these PFAS, and will have to notify the public if they detect any PFAS above its Notification Level. However, many details of how these notifications will work have yet to be finalized, and will be discussed at the upcoming Council meeting. Advocates have urged DOH to require frequent testing, notification to renters and the media, and clear language about the health effects of exposure.

In addition, DOH did not include two of the most common PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, in its proposal. New York currently requires water utilities to notify their customers and conduct cleanup whenever PFOA and PFOS exceed 10 ppt in drinking water. But the US Environmental Protection Agency has determined that no level of PFOA or PFOS exposure is safe, and has proposed federal cleanup standards for these two chemicals at 4 parts per trillion. If DOH does not require notification whenever PFOA or PFOS exceed 4 parts per trillion in drinking water, millions of New Yorkers may have to wait years longer to be specifically told that they are exposed to harmful levels of these chemicals.

“New Yorkers have a right to know about PFOA or PFOS levels in their water, especially with the EPA’s new findings. Regular PFAS testing, comprehensive notifications, including for renters, and leveraging Clean Water Infrastructure Act funds are vital. The DOH must prioritize New Yorkers’ health, ensuring clean water, especially with ample funding available to combat PFAS contamination,” said Rob Hayes, Director of Clean Water at Environmental Advocates NY. 

“Safe, clean drinking water is a basic right that must be available to all. To protect the health of New Yorkers and the quality of their water, it is critical that the New York State Department of Health establishes regular testing and keeps the public informed,” said Victoria Leung, Staff Attorney at Riverkeeper, Inc.

“Today, nearly all New Yorkers, including infants and children, have PFAS in their blood and may be unknowingly exposed to PFAS-tainted drinking water,” said Kate Donovan, Northeast Regional Lead of Environmental Health for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Considering the numerous potential health impacts, all New Yorkers deserve to know which PFAS and how much PFAS is in their water. Governor Hochul and the Department of Health must ensure the strongest notification levels are adopted, including notification of any amount of PFOA and PFOS, for which EPA advises there are no safe levels.”

Jennifer Rawlison, Steering Committee Member – Newburgh Clean Water Project 

As a mother and lifelong resident from a PFAS impacted community, it is imperative that policymakers appreciate and follow the latest science to ensure NYers across the state are given the tools to keep their families safe. By understanding PFAS exposure at even the lowest levels can be linked to devastating illnesses, establishing notification levels per the EPA guidances and communicating such risks is key to every NYer’s health. Environmental justice communities such as mine face daunting layers of harmful exposures, and the public needs to be properly informed on the health risks associated with PFAS exposure and what measures they may take when concerned about their health.

Liz Moran, New York Policy Advocate for Earthjustice, said, “Knowledge is power, and a fundamental step to ensuring the public has clean, safe, water, is to arm them with knowledge about the quality of their water. As we have gathered more information regarding PFAS, the clearer it has become that there are no safe levels of exposure. Low notification levels for PFAS are critical to ensure New Yorkers know what’s in their water and can inform rapid remediation and treatment plans.”