Cuomo proposes 'most protective' contaminants level in nation for drinking water

Jul 9, 2019

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made two big announcements improving the quality of New York's drinking water - and environmental advocates are applauding the actions.

Cuomo on Monday announced $350 million now available through the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act and the Intermunicipal Water Infrastructure Grant Program for municipalities with infrastructure projects that protect public health or improve water quality.

He also announced that New York has accepted the State Drinking Water Quality Council's recommendations for maximum contaminant levels of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and 1,4-dioxane in drinking water, and directed the Department of Health to begin the regulatory process for adopting these standards.

"We're proposing the most protective levels in the nation for three emerging contaminants to ensure we are regularly testing and fixing water systems before they ever rise to a public health risk in any part of the state," Cuomo said. "New York State will continue to lead in the absence of federal action by ensuring all residents have access to clean drinking water and by investing in critical projects to assist municipalities in treating these emerging contaminants." 

The levels of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and 10 parts per trillion for PFOS are the most protective in the nation, and significantly lower than the federal government's current guidance. The standard of 1 part per billion for 1,4-dioxane is the nation's first-ever level set for that contaminant.

"The continued lack of federal leadership on emerging contaminants has made it evident that New York must chart its own course to continue to protect water quality statewide," said state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

New Yorkers will have a chance to weigh in on the new regulations before they take effect. Cuomo said a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is expected to be published on July 24, when a 60-day public comment will begin. However, once adopted, "public water systems of all sizes would need to test their water within the specified timeframes, as outlined in the regulations, and comply with the adopted Maximum Contaminant Levels. Most water supplies will need to submit their first round of test results within three months of rule adoption."

Maureen Cunningham, Senior Director for Clean Water at Environmental Advocates of New York, said the new regulations put the state on a path to cleaner drinking water.

“Establishing MCLs for PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane will require all public water systems in New York to test for these chemicals and take action when elevated levels of contamination are discovered," Cunningham said. "However, recent science shows that there is likely no safe level of these chemicals and the state MCLs must reflect this. Environmental Advocates will continue to urge the Department of Health to bring their MCLs in line with the most recent science during the public commenting period.”

“We applaud Governor Cuomo and the Department of Health for setting the nation’s strongest maximum contaminant levels for these dangerous chemicals,” said Patrick McClellan, State Policy Director for the NY League of Conservation Voters. “The continued release of clean water infrastructure funds is a clear demonstration of New York’s commitment to protecting public health and we look forward to continued progress in addressing emerging contaminants.”