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Editorial: Residents at risk while council remains idle

Editorial: Residents at risk while council remains idle

Drinking Water Quality Council has yet to issue its recommendations on maximum contaminant levels
Editorial: Residents at risk while council remains idle
Photographer: shutterstock

High cholesterol levels.

Changes in thyroid hormone.

Ulcerative colitis (autoimmune disease).

Pre-eclampsia (a complication of pregnancy that includes high blood pressure).

Possible connection to kidney and testicular cancer.

Possible connection to increased risks for several health effects in children, including effects on birth weight, cognitive and behavioral development, immune function and cholesterol levels.

These are some of the potential health effects contained in a state Health Department fact sheet, dated December 2015, which cited a survey of a large number of citizens living near a PFOA manufacturing plant in the Ohio River Valley of Ohio and West Virginia.

PFOA, PFOS and a chemical known as 1,4-Dioxane have been found in New York drinking water in levels that are not considered safe for consumption.

PFOA and PFOS are chemicals used in the manufacture of non-stick baking products and stain-resistant coatings for carpeting and the like. 1,4-Dioxane is an organic contaminant in certain ingredients used in cosmetics, detergents and shampoos.

To address high levels of chemicals found in drinking water in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh and other communities, the state set up a Drinking Water Quality Council back in September 2017 to recommend safe levels of toxic contaminants in drinking water.

The statutory deadline for the council to issue its recommendations on new maximum contaminant levels for such toxins is coming up on Tuesday.

But nearly a full year after its first meeting, the council has yet to recommend new, safer levels for drinking water contamination. In fact, the council hasn’t even met since March.

What’s the point of setting up such an organization if it doesn’t do what it was supposed to? Or even meet?

While state officials decide their next move with regard to the standards, New Yorkers continue to be at risk of being exposed to excessively high levels of chemical contamination in their drinking water.

This isn’t a problem that can afford to wait on the usual state government tangle of inaction, red tape and procrastination.

Some levels of contamination currently allowed by law have been found, through scientific review over time, to be too lax. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, set guidance levels for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion. 

But the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an Atlanta-based public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health, suggests that safe standard levels for those chemicals should be at least 10 times lower.

According to experts, including the former director of the Center for Environmental Health at the state Department of Health, New York residents are allowed to drink water containing much higher levels of PFOA and other toxins than residents in some neighboring states, including Vermont and New Jersey.

The Drinking Water Quality Council was supposed to bring New York’s standards up to date.

But with no action coming from the body, New Yorkers continue to risk their health with unreasonably high limits on how much of these particular toxins is considered safe for human consumption.

For months, everyone from environmental groups to public health advocates to local government organizations to citizens affected by pollution to individual state lawmakers have called on the state to resume its efforts to set new standards for chemical contamination in drinking water.

Yet this council, specifically set up to do just that, continues to drag its heels.

The only way to ensure New Yorkers are safe from chemical contamination is for the government to step in.

The state officials responsible for securing these standards need to take a look at that list of health impacts at the beginning of this editorial.

Then they need to ask themselves what they would do if they or a loved one or a friend became ill because of their inaction.

This council needs to get back to work.

Not next month. Not in six months. Not in another year.

Now.

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