EANY Statement on Historic EPA Action to Address Toxic PFAS in Drinking Water

Albany, NY – On Wednesday April 10, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first-ever federal limits on toxic PFAS in drinking water. The regulations published today require water utilities nationwide to test for six PFAS chemicals and clean up their drinking water if harmful levels are detected.

PFAS are a class of over 9,000 man-made chemicals whose widespread use by industries and in consumer products has led to significant pollution in New York and across the nation. Also known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS persist in the environment, build up in the human body, and are highly toxic, with exposure linked to thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, preeclampsia, and many other harmful health effects.

The following statement can be attributed to Rob Hayes, Director of Clean Water with Environmental Advocates NY:

“We are thrilled by the Biden administration’s historic action to protect New Yorkers from the hazards of PFAS exposure. Nearly a decade has passed since the water crises in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh, and elsewhere in New York opened our eyes to the dangers of these forever chemicals. The advocacy of these communities and so many others led directly to this victory today. EPA’s new drinking water standards will lead to cleaner water, healthier families, and stronger communities across the state.

New York has been a leader in tackling the PFAS crisis, and that leadership is still needed. Given our head start, Governor Hochul and the NYS Department of Health should implement these regulations immediately, ensuring that water utilities clean up contamination on a faster timeline than EPA is requiring. DOH should also move forward with Notifications Levels on close to two dozen additional PFAS recommended by the NYS Drinking Water Quality Council last November. This will provide critical transparency about New Yorkers’ exposure to a wider range of PFAS when they turn on the tap.”

Details of EPA’s Regulations and Implications for New York State:

EPA has established Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) each for PFOA and PFOS. If a water utility detects PFOA or PFOS above its MCL, it is required to install treatment technology or identify a new water source to reduce the public’s exposure. Since EPA determined that there is no safe level of exposure to PFOA or PFOS, the MCLs are the lowest levels that EPA believed could be reliably detected.

EPA has also established MCLs for PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX at 10 ppt each. Finally, EPA established a Hazard Index for these three chemicals as well as PFBS. EPA recognized that many PFAS are often found together in drinking water; the Hazard Index regulates these PFAS as a mixture.

Water utilities must conduct initial testing for these PFAS within 3 years. If a water utility exceeds the MCLs or Hazard Index, it must have new treatment technology or a new water source in place to reduce the public’s exposure within 5 years.

New York has been an epicenter of PFAS contamination, from Hoosick Falls and Newburgh to Long Island and Rockland County. In 2020, New York established MCLs of 10 ppt each for PFOA and PFOS. Since that time, over 200 water utilities have exceeded those standards.

EPA’s PFOA and PFOS MCLs are lower and more health-protective than New York’s MCLs. The NYS Department of Health (DOH) estimates that 300 water utilities across the state will exceed EPA’s MCLs and need to take remedial action, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. EPA has calculated that the health benefits of reducing exposure to PFAS under the regulation justify the costs of testing and treatment. EPA also announced that $1 billion of funding from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is now available to begin helping water utilities test as well as private well owners test and treat for PFAS.

Many other PFAS have been found in drinking water that EPA has not yet regulated. In November 2023, the NYS Drinking Water Quality Council recommended that DOH establish Notification Levels at the level of detection (generally around 1 ppt) for 23 PFAS chemicals. If a water utility exceeded these Notification Levels, they would be required to provide information to the public about the contamination, though not necessarily take remedial action. DOH has not yet proposed regulations establishing these Notification Levels.