Two important things happened last week in the fight against polluted water supplies.
The first was that the state finally, after dragging its feet for months, recommended new stricter limits on two emerging chemical threats to public health — 1.4-dioxane and two PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.
The second was that Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved funds — more than $350 million — for municipalities to build the infrastructure needed to treat chemical contamination.
Both are significant steps forward in the fight against water contamination and the dangers it poses to the public.
Under the new standards, which still must be published and go through a public comment period before getting approval, the state would set the maximum contamination level at 1 part per billion for 1.4-dioxane and the maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA.
PFAS chemicals were dumped into water supplies in communities around the state — including Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh — by companies creating non-stick coatings for pots and pans, stain-free carpeting and firefighting foam.
Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to serious health issues, including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease and high blood pressure.
The chemical 1.4-dioxane is a fragrant-smelling solvent used in the manufacture of paint thinner, anti-freeze and personal hygiene products like shampoos and perfumes. It is listed by the federal government as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
The new maximum limits are necessary in light of new scientific evidence showing the harmful effects of these chemicals at lower levels.
Once the new state levels are put into place, most water suppliers in the state will be required to test for them.
That’s where the funding announced by the governor is so important.
There’s no point in setting high standards for chemicals in drinking water supplies if the affected communities can’t afford to treat the water and remove the contaminants.
The new chemical limits are long overdue. The state Drinking Water Quality Council recommended the stricter maximum allowable levels back in December.
Both the state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have been slow to adopt stricter standards.
The EPA isn’t expected to even begin the process of setting stricter limits until at least the end of the year.
That’s why we’ve been urging the state to take the lead and impose its own standards to protect New Yorkers.
Clean water is essential to our lives.
Our government has an obligation to ensure we have it.