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December 23, 2021

Advocates Hail Agreement to Protect New York’s Water from Toxic “Forever Chemicals”

Victory: New law will establish the most comprehensive drinking water testing and notification program for PFAS in the country

Contacts

Brian Keegan, bkeegan@eany.org

Albany, N.Y.

Today, clean water advocates applauded Governor Hochul for signing A.126-A/S.1759-A, which will inform New Yorkers about what’s in their water. The bill was sponsored by Senator James Skoufis and Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried.

The Governor and the State Legislature also agreed to changes to the bill which will go into effect next year. The agreement establishes New York’s first list of emerging contaminants. Every water utility across the state will be required to test for those contaminants and notify the public if dangerous levels are found.

Over the last several years, drinking water contamination events across New York have revealed the need for comprehensive, statewide drinking water testing. Cancer-causing PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” have been detected at dangerous levels in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh, Petersburgh, Rockland County, Poestenkill, and dozens of communities on Long Island.

The agreement reached today will mean:

  • 23 PFAS will be included on the New York State (NYS) Department of Health’s (DOH) first list of emerging contaminants, which will be published next year.
  • 14 other toxic chemicals, including four PFAS, will be included on DOH’s second emerging contaminant testing list, unless vetoed by DOH and the NYS Drinking Water Quality Council.
  • DOH will be required to update the list and add new contaminants at least once every three years.

Before testing can begin, DOH must set notification levels for the 23 PFAS identified as emerging contaminants. If a contaminant exceeds its notification level in drinking water, the public must be informed of it. Advocates are now urging DOH to set the lowest and most health-protective notification level for each PFAS. There is no known safe level of PFAS in drinking water.

Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard Gottfried said, “The new emerging contaminants law is a crucial step in ensuring public access to clean, safe drinking water. New York has been a leader on water quality protection, and we must remain pro-active in monitoring and enforcing the most protective environmental health standards. I commend Governor Hochul, Senate sponsor James Skoufis, and all the advocates and communities across the State whose work helped get this signed into law.”

Rob Hayes, director of Clean Water at Environmental Advocates NY said, “Finally, New York is keeping its promise to communities poisoned by PFAS that our state will be more proactive and transparent in protecting our drinking water. After more than four years of persistent advocacy, New Yorkers will find out whether they are being exposed to “forever chemicals” that could make them sick. We thank Governor Hochul, Senator James Skoufis, and Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried for their leadership and commitment to this issue. This is great news for every New Yorker who wants to know what’s in the water they are drinking.”

Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group said, “Nothing is more important to our health and quality of life than safe drinking water. Yet across the state, that precious resource is threatened by a toxic legacy of industrial and commercial pollutants. Only an informed public can demand that drinking water supplies are protected. This legislation provides critical information to New Yorkers. We applaud the decision by Governor Hochul to approve this legislation as well as those in the legislature — most notably Senator Skoufis and Assemblymember Gottfried — that championed this common sense measure.”

Alok Disa, senior research and policy analyst for Earthjustice said, “Every New Yorker, regardless of where they live, deserves to know what’s in their water. The stories of Hoosick Falls and Newburgh serve as stark examples that show why early access to information about contamination is so important in preventing needless exposure to toxic chemicals. Thanks to this legislation, all New Yorkers served by public water systems will benefit from testing for dangerous unregulated contaminants, including a full suite of PFAS chemicals. We thank Governor Hochul, Senator Skoufis, Assemblyman Gottfried, and the residents of impacted communities for getting this legislation across the finish line to benefit the health of all New Yorkers.”

Jeremy Cherson, senior manager of Government Affairs for Riverkeeper said, “Thanks to Governor Hochul, Assemblyman Gottfried, and Senator Skoufis, New Yorkers will be notified of dangerous chemicals from the PFAS family found in their drinking water. From Newburgh to Lake DeForest in Rockland County, it is clear that these chemicals are prevalent across the state and residents deserve to know which chemicals contaminate their water. Since the 2017 Emerging Contaminants Monitoring Act, New Yorkers have been waiting for a robust emerging contaminant testing program. The legislation signed today can deliver that program and begin a new chapter in drinking water contaminant transparency for New York.”

Joseph Campbell, president of Seneca Lake Guardian said, “By signing this bill into law, Governor Hochul is demonstrating her commitment to making sure that all New Yorkers have a right to know that they and their families have safe drinking water, a fundamental right. We applaud Senator Skoufis and Assemblymember Gottfried for their leadership in bringing this important legislation to the governor’s desk.”

Loreen Hackett, co-chair of the Hoosick Falls Community Participation Work Group said, “NYS expanding testing for more toxic chemicals and additional, harmful PFAS is another step forward to preventing another tragedy experienced by our Hoosick Falls community. It has always been our hope that continuing positive actions result from the lessons learned here. Trust in our drinking water should be a given, never again a question, and it’s extremely encouraging to see this bill move us in that vital, most necessary direction.”

Gale Pisha, co-chair of Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter’s statewide Legislative Committee said, “Sierra Club’s more than 50,000 members in New York State applaud Governor Hochul for her decision to sign this important legislation, which will help New Yorkers know what’s in the water they drink. We greatly appreciate Senator Skoufis, Assembly Member Gottfried, and the cosponsors of the bill for protecting the health of our residents by requiring testing for these toxic chemicals. We urge the Department of Health to set notification levels for the 23 PFAS in the first list of emerging contaminants as low as possible. Every New Yorker needs to know if their water is safe to drink.”

Manna Jo Greene, environmental director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater said, “In 2022 we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Clean Water Act. We have come a long way to restore water quality and protect water resources over the past 50 years, however PFAS and other emerging contaminants have since contaminated drinking water for many communities in New York and beyond. This legislation will expand the list of chemicals that will now be regulated to protect public health and ensure safe drinking water, as the Clean Water Act intended. We are very grateful to the Bill's sponsors and the NYS Legislature for promulgating this important legislation, and to Governor Hochul for signing it into law.”

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