New legislation would track “forever chemicals” in public waterways

Legislative Gazette file photo

Environmental groups Seneca Lake Guardian and Earthjustice joined state lawmakers Sen. Rachel May, D-Syracuse, and Assembly Health Chair Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, on Monday to call for statewide action to ensure clean drinking water for residents. 

Senator May also announced new legislation requiring annual testing for facilities that discharge water into public waterways. 

The PFAS Surface Water Discharge Disclosure Act (S.9525), would make sure PFAS chemicals- per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances- are less likely to be found in drinking water through testing. By amending the Environmental Conservation Act, the bill would require all publicly owned treatment works and new state pollutant discharge elimination system permit applicants to annually disclose any PFAS surface water discharge and to make them publicly available. 

“What we need now is to give local governments tools so they can actually enforce levels, or lack there of, of PFAS that can be safe for people. They cannot do it, as Jill pointed out, unless they have information about what actually is in the water, what is coming into the water where it’s coming from, because otherwise, how can you put any kind of effective regulation in place,” May said. 

PFAS materials, which can be found in nonstick cookware, grease resistant food packaging and water resistant clothing, are able to enter the drinking supply after rain water passes over landfill materials containing them, absorbs it and settles underground as leachate. This leachate is then processed in a wastewater treatment facility or allowed to enter nearby surface water. 

Seneca Meadows, the largest landfill in New York, creates 75 million gallons of leachate every year. This leachate is transported to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango and Steuben County to be processed. 

Jill Heaps, senior attorney at Earthjustice said, “PFAS, or forever chemicals, are actually a family of thousands of chemicals that instead of breaking down and diluting when released in the environment, they build up in the environment and our bodies and they reak havoc. The EPA has known about the dangers of these chemicals for more than 20 years yet we still have no enforceable federal limits on PFAS in drinking water or in our lakes, rivers, and streams.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Chemicals and Disease Registry there is research that suggest human exposure to PFAS can lead to increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, small decreases in infant birth weights, decreased vaccine response in children, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer.

The New York State Department of Health currently monitors drinking water for minimum contaminant levels of 1,4-dioxane, PFOA, perfluorooctanoic acid and PFOS, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. These levels cannot surpass 10 parts per trillion for both PFOA and PFOS and one part per billion in 1,4-dioxane. Public water systems are required to notify local health departments if levels exceed these and work with them to alert the public and develop a course of action and timetable to reduce levels to an acceptable amount. 

Gottfried, the Assembly Health Committee chair, said, “This legislation is for the first time going to generate information for us on how these chemicals are getting into our surface water and eventually into our drinking water, and once we have that data on where it’s coming from and in what volume, we can and must then do legislation to restrict these chemicals from getting into surface and drinking water in the first place.”