A state panel charged with determining the maximum legal amount of PFOA and other contaminants in drinking water heard from experts Wednesday on issues like laboratory methods and water treatment costs, intended to help its 12 members make recommendations.
The meeting was the second one held by the state Drinking Water Quality Council, created in this year’s state budget and mandated to make its first set of recommendations on contaminant limits for drinking water next October.
It focused on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), chemicals that have been found in water supplies in Rensselaer County and Newburgh. The council’s first meeting, on Long Island last month, focused on the chemical dioxane. While the federal government and other states have established advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS in water supplies, there is no law in place establishing enforceable limits for these chemicals, according to state Health Department Deputy Commissioner Brad Hutton. “We’re going to be setting a legal enforceable level that all municipal water supplies have to adhere to,” he said.
The highly technical and information-packed meeting closed with an emotional punch from members of Petersburgh and Hoosick Falls, communities whose water supplies were tainted with PFOA by manufacturers. A man-made chemical, PFOA has been used since the 1940s to make industrial and household products such as non-stick coatings and heat-resistant wiring. It has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, as well as thyroid diseases and other serious health problems.
Residents of these communities, as well as the mayor of Hoosick Falls, urged the council to set the maximum contamination levels below the current federal guidance of 70 parts per trillion. A presentation to the committee by Health Department Research Scientist Kenneth Bogdan showed that three other states had set lower guidance levels, all based on different assumptions – Minnesota at 35 parts per trillion, Vermont at 20 parts per trillion and New Jersey at 14 parts per trillion.
“Anything higher than 20 parts per trillion will be a misstep,” said Hoosick Falls Mayor Robert Allen.
Residents also called for the council to consider other emerging contaminants before they become a health problem. Hutton said that was what the council is charged to do, once it tackles the first three chemicals.
“I think we’re 40 years too late,” said Emily Marpe, who choked up when she told the council that the well at her home in Petersburgh, a half mile from the Taconic Plastics where PFOA contamination was found, tested as having PFOA levels of 2,100 parts per trillion. Her own blood level tested at 332 parts per billion; her daughter’s at 207 parts per billion. The national average of PFOA — shorthand for perfluorooctanoic acid — for most people is 2.03.
Council members also learned about the cost of effectively treating water contaminated with PFOA and PFOS with granular activated carbon (GAC) systems, which ranged from $2,500 for equipment and installation for an individual system to nearly $15 million (about $500 per person) for a large municipal system, according to Health Department Research Scientist Dan Lang.