What comes out of New York City's faucets has been referred to as the "champagne of drinking water," but elsewhere in the state some supplies pose serious health hazards.
Alarm bells sounded in Hoosick Falls when its water supply showed up dangerous levels of Perfluorooctanoic acid, a water and oil repellent, used since the 1940s in products including non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and microwave popcorn bags. And it had been hidden in the supply for years, posing serious hazards to village water customers.
Elsewhere, the City of Newburgh also found higher than allowable limits of PFOAs, traced to a chemical used in firefighting foam. The source of the contamination was linked to a retention pond at nearby Stewart Air Force Base.
Now, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the state must raise the level of oversight on hundreds of New York water systems to safeguard public health.
Based on the Comptroller's review of water system reports, nearly 90 percent of the state's 192 public water systems detected contaminants equaling or exceeding limits.
"Ensuring that drinking water supplies are free from hazardous contaminants is a complicated challenge, with important implications for public health as well as state and local government budgets," DiNapoli said in the introduction to his department's 18-page report on water quality released Monday.
The situation is even more critical as the Trump administration threatens to slash funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, possibly leaving it without means to safeguard public health or the ability to add new potentially harmful chemicals to the watch list.
"This comes down to protecting drinking water at its source," said Dan Shapley, director of water quality for Riverkeeper, an environmental organization based in Ossining. "How do we protect drinking water supplies so we don't have any of these chemicals?"
DiNapoli called on the state's water system superintendents to be more transparent in reporting test results to customers. Additionally, the report said, it is incumbent on the state health department to maintain a up-to-date database on contaminants that could pose water system hazards, along with detailing their maximum allowable levels.
"New York state must stay focused on actions fully recognizing that drinking water quality concerns and crises regionally, statewide and across the nation have become increasingly acute," said State Sen.Tom O'Mara (R-Big Flats), chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.
In the wake of the Newburgh and Hoosick Falls incidents and the fallout from serious lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, $2.5 billion was allocated in this year's state budget for water infrastructure projects, including $120 million for remediation of contaminated supplies; at least $20 million for the replacement of lead drinking water service lines; and up to $10 million for information technology systems related to water supplies.
That's a start. Much more may be needed. By DiNapoli's estimate more than $5 billion has been spent by the state and federal government on local water systems over the past 20 years. The cost of repairs and maintenance over past 20 years could pale in comparison of what is necessary over the next 20.
Cost of the cleanup in Hoosick Falls: $2 million carbon filtration system at the village water treatment plant. Placing a cost on the impact to property values and the health-related price to its citizens is harder.
Among the recommendations from the Comptroller's Office:
•Create a statewide response plan, with public input, to effectively address drinking water contamination incidents.
•Create a statewide program that would proactively monitor the health of residents exposed to drinking water contaminants.
•Apply a more precautionary approach for contaminants that are unregulated at the federal level.
"Water contamination incidents in the Village of Hoosick Falls and the City of Newburgh illustrate the vulnerabilities of the current regulatory structure," the comptroller's office said in its report.
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