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State proposal would significantly lower safe limit on PFOA pollution

State proposal would significantly lower safe limit on PFOA pollution

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A new, stricter limit for PFOA and PFOS has been proposed for New York state.

The new limit of 10 parts per trillion, based on science indicating how dangerous the chemicals are, significantly changes the severity of contamination in southern Washington County. Dozens of local wells that were considered to have small amounts of PFOA are now known to have been too contaminated to drink.

On the plus side, every owner who wanted a filter has already received one. But now, many more people might want one. The state Department of Health said it will look at the results of those tests to assess whether more filters or testing are needed.

Still, many people already have filters.

“If you were tested, you could have a point-of-entry filter put in. It didn’t matter what your results were,” said Cambridge Supervisor Cassie Fedler. “People who wanted them got them.”

The state paid for all of the filters and is trying to extract the cost from the polluters.

For three years, it was unclear what the standard for PFOA and PFOS water supply contamination should be. Scientists had to determine at what point the water was dangerous.

PFOA, short for perfluorooctanoic acid, is a chemical that was used to make some nonstick items, from pans to microwave popcorn, while PFOS, or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, was often used in firefighting foam. PFOA was phased out in the early 2000s, but contamination has been found in many water supplies. Prolonged exposure to the chemical could result in risk of cancer, birth defects or problems with the liver, immune system and thyroid, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Some environmentalists pushed for a “maximum contaminant level” of 4 parts per trillion, a standard so strict that even South Glens Falls would have been considered contaminated. The village had a slight PFOA reading of 4.95 ppt and PFOS of 4.37 ppt at one underground spring and is installing a carbon filter with the help of a grant from the state.

On Tuesday, the state Drinking Water Quality Council recommended a limit of 10 ppt. The next step is for the state health commissioner to officially publish the recommendations, starting a 60-day comment process before the limits go into effect.

While Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker could reject the recommendations, he praised the council for proposing “the nation’s most protective” limits for PFOA and PFOS.

“The Council’s actions further demonstrate the importance of protecting the health and well-being of its citizens and I will take their recommendation under close advisement,” Zucker said in a statement.

The 10 ppt limit, based on science indicating how dangerous the chemicals are, casts a new light on tests in the region.

What were considered results under the federal limit would now be considered well over the state limit in southern Washington County.

Under the old standard of 70 ppt, only two wells in Cambridge were dangerously contaminated. In White Creek, 31 wells were badly contaminated.

But under the new limit of 10 ppt, at least 15 wells in Cambridge were dangerously high and 84 wells in White Creek were too contaminated to drink. Another 96 may also have been over the limit, but a report from the state Department of Health says only that the results for those wells were between 2 and 20 ppt.

In Kingsbury, where contamination was found near the Airport Industrial Park of Warren and Washington Counties, the new limit might change the way the state handles some wells.

The first contaminated well tested at a PFOA level of 96 ppt. Another well tested at 68 ppt. The state installed filters for both wells.

Another four wells were tested at 9.6 to 25 ppt, according to the state.

Those results were seen as reassuringly low in comparison to the 70 ppt limit. Now they will likely warrant filters from the state.

That’s different from the situation in Washington County, where more residents got filters.

“Everyone that wanted one of those systems got them, thank goodness,” said White Creek Supervisor Bob Shay. “I think we jumped on it fast enough.”

Some environmentalists had pushed for a 4 ppt limit, but they said they were pleased by the 10 ppt recommendation for now.

“It’s very important maximum contamination levels be put on the books as quickly as possible,” said Rob Hayes, clean water associate at Environmental Advocates of New York. “It’s been three years since the water crisis in Hoosick Falls came to light.”

Unlike the local contamination found in some private wells, PFOA was found in dangerously high levels in the Hoosick Falls village aquifer. Residents used bottled water until a filter was installed.

Once the limit is officially established, all drinking water operators must test for the chemicals every year. While many of the local water supplies have been tested, that’s not true for the entire state.

“We’re excited any contamination lurking in anyone’s water supply will be found out,” Hayes said.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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