Gov. Kathy Hochul is rightly zeroed in on public health these days.
But there’s more to public health policy than dealing with covid. That includes addressing the serious, long-term health concerns of contaminated drinking water.
When Hochul took over the executive’s office from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August, she inherited a bunch of unsigned bills passed earlier in the year by the Legislature.
Among them was a bill to expand drinking water testing in the state to include many more contaminants than in the past.
The bill (A126A/S1759), which passed the Legislature with widespread bipartisan support, would require every municipal water system in the state to test for 40 so-called “emerging contaminants,” which include chemicals from manufacturing, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and landfills that get into the soil and into drinking water sources.
The list of covered chemicals in the bill includes PFAS, the chemicals used in the manufacture of nonstick cookware, stainless carpets and fire-suppression foam that is responsible for contamination of water supplies in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, North Bennington and other places.
The legislation comes six years after PFAS chemicals were discovered in Hoosick Falls’ drinking water.
Loopholes in federal environmental law allow about 2,000 smaller municipal water systems in the state not to test for these emerging chemicals, a dangerous gap in the law that puts about 2.5 million New Yorkers at greater risk for exposure to these toxins when they open their taps.
The reason it’s important for the new governor to quickly sign this legislation is because the faster she signs it, the sooner the state Health Department can begin drafting regulations for these chemicals and the sooner municipal water systems can be tested and any contamination revealed.
Further delay only allows these hidden threats to remain in the drinking supply undetected and unaddressed.
A group of 40 environmental organizations signed a letter last month urging the governor to not only sign the bill, but to instruct state agencies to provide information to the public about emerging contaminants and drinking water quality; establish water quality standards to prevent discharges of PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane; ensure drinking water protections are funded adequately and to clean up drinking water sources when contaminants are discovered.
That’s not much to ask to ensure that we’re all drinking water that is safe.
The governor has a lot of health-related issues on her plate right now.
Signing this bill immediately should be one of her top priorities.