Most of the focus has been on COVID-19, but advocates held a virtual meeting Tuesday to bring attention to another aspect of public health: protecting New York’s drinking water.
State legislators, local elected officials, residents from impacted communities and environmental advocates assembled on Zoom to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health to set stringent standards for three toxic chemicals that have polluted drinking water across the state: PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane.
Maureen Cunningham of Environmental Advocates NY says New York is in a drinking water crisis that began nearly five years ago when it was found pollutants had poisoned water supplies in places like Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, Newburgh and Long Island. She says there is a simple solution:
"Setting drinking water standards for these toxic chemicals based on science that are most protective of the most New Yorkers. Testing their water using the best available technology and treatment and then cleaning up our water supplies once and for all."
Cunningham says activists are looking for the same level of urgency in setting drinking water standards that leaders given to responding to COVID-19. State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, chairs the Assembly health committee.
"With the determined effort of the environmental advocates all across the state we're finally getting the public health and health planning council acting on this, but that's not gonna be the end of it," Gottfried said. "Getting regulations adopted is really important, but getting those regulations enforced is gonna take constant work, and I think we all recognize that. But it looks like we are finally about to take an important step forward with the adoption of the regulation."
The New York Water Project's Jennifer Plouffe says she moved to Hoosick Falls just as the water crisis hit.
"While I am cautiously optimistic that the Department of Health is on the right track, I really would like to hold their feet to the fire and make sure that in voting that they make sure that they vote for the lowest maximum contaminant level for all of these toxic chemicals. It's time to do the right thing and it's time to protect New Yorkers' health and safety," Plouffe said.
NYPIRG's Liz Moran says now is the time to act to clean and protect the water supply.
"Because we don't have standards yet for PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane, there's been limited testing, but, for all that limited testing, we do know that over 1.5 million New Yorkers have been exposed to what many scientists consider unsafe levels of PFOA and PFOS, and similarly, around 2.8 million New Yorkers have been exposed to unsafe levels of 1,4 dioxane," Moran said. "And the bottom line is, there's going to be more, because we haven't tested everyone yet. There are over 2 million New Yorkers that rely on small water systems that haven't had their water tested yet for these contaminants. Additionally, there are over 4 million New Yorkers who rely on private wells, who have effectively no regulation for their water. This is unjust. It has to stop."
The DOH is set to vote July 30 to finalize drinking water standards. State officials responded to a request for comment by email with the following: