NY implements strict drinking water regulations; providers worried about cost

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York State public health officials on Thursday implemented stricter drinking water regulations that decrease the acceptable standards for harmful chemicals.

Those chemicals include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and 1,4-dioxane, which can be found in drinking water.

"Today, New York has prioritized public health and drinking water protections for families, communities, and individuals," said Adrienne Esposito, with Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

PFOAs, PFOSs and 1,4-dioxane are believed to be carcinogens, and repeated exposure may cause developmental effects to fetuses, cancer, and liver and thyroid issues.

Esposito says 1,4 dioxane is found in 80% of cleaning and personal care products, and some water systems in Nassau and Suffolk counties contain levels more than 100 times the EPA's cancer risk guideline.

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With the new regulations, New York becomes the first state to implement a drinking water standard for 1,4-dioxane.

"While the federal government continues to leave emerging contaminants like 1,4-dioxane, PFOA and PFOS unregulated, New York is leading the way by setting new national standards that help ensure drinking water quality and safeguard New Yorker's health from these chemicals," Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Those with New York's Public Health and Health Planning Council said the regulations are seven times below federal standards.

"These new standards are some of the lowest and precedent-setting nationwide and were carefully considered over months of scientific review with stakeholder input to ensure successful implementation," New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said.

While no one is arguing against cleaner drinking water, water providers on Long Island are concerned how they will be able to pay for the expensive filtration systems needed to remove the chemicals from the water.

"Currently, Long Island suppliers have already spent more than $150 million on treatment systems," said Richard Passariello, with the Long Island Water Conference. "Within the next five years, suppliers on Long Island will pay approximately $700 million more to get all the systems in place."

Passariello said water providers have received some grants from the state for water-cleaning technology, but it isn't sufficient.

"There's a big gap between what we've received and what we're going to need," he said.

The Hicksville Water District has already installed two UV-filtrating systems for 1,4-dioxane and is planning to add four more. The systems also include carbon-filtering systems for PFOAs and PFOSs.

Water district superintendent Paul Granger said the district plans to spend $70 million on the filtrating systems.

"We just want the public to take comfort that while it's going to cost money and we're going to do everything we can to mitigate the cost to prevent rate increases, the bottom line is you want to know your water is safe to drink," he said.

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New York State Senator Jim Gaughran (D-Huntington) sponsored a law passed in November, which allows water districts to sue manufacturers who knew chemicals in their products would leak into Long Island's aquifers.

"They could be suing and recouping millions and, in some cases, hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "And that is money that would otherwise have to be paid by the taxpayer."

Multiple lawsuits have already been filed, including by the Hicksville Water District against chemical company Dow.

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