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Editorial: Adopt water contaminant guidelines

It has been three and a half months since the New York Drinking Water Quality Council recommended new standards for preventing exposure to dangerous chemicals found in state water supplies.

The standards were passed on to the Department of Health, where for now they remain stuck.

The council in December proposed maximum contaminant levels for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and 1,4-dioxane. The chemicals are among a group of unregulated contaminants whose risks range from uncertain to well-known.

According to the New York Public Interest Research Group, PFOA and PFOS are known to endanger public health at low levels of exposure, leading to developmental effects to fetuses, thyroid disorders, ulcerative colitis, high-cholesterol, preeclampsia, and kidney and testicular cancer.

Exposure to 1,4-dioxane can cause liver cancer and chronic kidney and liver effects. The Environmental Protection Agency lists it as a known carcinogen.

The chemical 1,4-dioxane has been found in numerous towns on Long Island, and state legislators from there have proposed a statewide ban on the sale of products that contain it, including body washes, detergents and baby products.

The concern over 1,4-dioxane extends to Western New York. According to data on the NYPIRG website, a concentration of 0.31 parts per billion of 1,4-dioxane was found in the town of Elma. New York does not yet have a standard, but in Massachusetts, a level greater than .3 parts per billion is considered “action level,” meaning it’s required to be rectified.

The City of Batavia’s water had a 0.09 level of 1,4-dioxane, according to nypirg.org, less worrisome but still noteworthy.

The Drinking Water Quality Council’s recommendation for maximum allowable contaminant levels was 1 part per billion for 1,4-dioxane, 10 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 10 ppt for PFOS.

Not all water supplies in Western New York have been tested, so there may be other chemical intrusions of which we are not aware.

Anyone can get an idea of what’s in their water supply by plugging their ZIP code into NYPIRG’s “What’s in my water?” page, at www.nypirg.org/whatsinmywater.

Members of the quality council, established in 2018, include State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. Zucker’s own Health Department has not yet adopted the council’s recommendations on drinking water, likely for fiscal reasons. Testing and treating water costs money and the state has been grappling with a budget shortfall. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that .35 parts per billion of the 1,4-dioxane is equivalent to a one in a million chance of getting cancer, a statistic cited by those opposed to additional government spending on testing.

The question is, why create a council whose mission is to safeguard our drinking water if its recommendations won’t be adopted? It’s time for the Health Department to act on safeguarding our groundwater.