Critics roast Department of Health for proposed change in drinking water regulation

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The Hoosic River runs through Hoosick Falls in 2016. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Opposition to a revision in the health department’s new water standards say it could result in New Yorkers drinking toxic water.

The Department of Health has backtracked on its drinking water standards, say legislators, community advocates, and environmentalists. They want Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to rescind a revision that turns a three-month notification rule into a once-a-year requirement.

The proposed revision allows the health department to wait for nearly a year before telling New Yorkers they are drinking contaminated water.

“New York should be strengthening, not weakening, our clean water protections,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried in a statement. “There’s no reason to delay or reduce public notification processes, nor to delay installing treatment systems when we know how toxic these chemicals are.”

This potential deferral system, included in an amendment to the state’s near-final maximum contaminant levels standard, could unnecessarily delay the treatment of drinking water contaminated with PFOA, PFOS, 1,4-dioxane.

These chemicals pollute drinking water statewide, including in upstate communities like Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh.

The current process makes water suppliers test for harmful chemicals and, if levels pass a certain contaminant threshold, notify the public and create a timeline to decontaminate the supply.

Under current health department regulations, public notifications must include specific contaminant levels, and must repeat every three months for as long as the water remains contaminated.

The new process would let water suppliers defer a formal violation for up to three years. Water suppliers would only notify the public annually, even though three months is standard for organic chemicals. The proposed revision does not specify what goes in a public notification, so specific results—like the contaminant level—could be kept from the public.

Since the deferral system avoids a formal violation, what qualifies as a “risk to public health” is up to the discretion of the health department or supplier. They might get years to set up filtration and treatment technology that is easily available and installs quickly.

“The option for deferral of enforcement does not nullify notification requirements for exceedances, is not intended to delay testing or treatment, and will not reduce transparency in any way,” says a spokesperson from the Department of Health in a statement.

“Water Systems will only have 90 days to request a deferral from the effective date of the regulation and requests will be considered for approval on a case-by-case basis for those systems already working towards compliance. Additionally, NYSDOH reserves the right to rescind any deferrals if water systems aren’t making adequate progress.”

The Environmental Protection Agency also faces criticism on its handling of water contaminants. Legislators like Rep. Antonio Delgado of the state’s 19th Congressional District have urged the agency to establish maximum contaminant levels for the same dangerous chemicals.

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