A new law on the books in New York establishes the most comprehensive drinking-water testing and notification program in the nation for Perfluorinated and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS), substances known as "forever chemicals."
Rob Hayes, director of clean water for Environmental Advocates NY, said every water utility across the state will have to test for the nearly two dozen toxic chemicals on the state's first list of emerging contaminants.
He pointed out notifications will be sent to the public if unsafe levels are detected in drinking water.
"New Yorkers are about to finally find out what's in their water and if they're being exposed to toxic PFAS chemicals," Hayes explained. "We're going to see testing, hopefully starting this year, and then, there will be regular testing happening for new contaminants every so often after that."
High exposure to PFAS chemicals has been found to negatively impact human health and the environment. Backers of the new law urged the state Department of Health to set notification levels for low amounts of every emerging contaminant listed.
Clean-water advocacy groups have been pushing for transparency about toxic chemicals for more than four years.
Manna Jo Greene, environmental action director for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said the legislation ties in with the new Green Amendment voters overwhelmingly passed on the November ballot.
"It's an actual amendment to the New York State Constitution that guarantees the right to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment," Greene outlined. "This is a specific way to implement and ensure those rights."
In recent years, New York has enacted several bills to eliminate the use of PFAS chemicals in products like firefighting foam and food packaging. Hayes hopes to see even more efforts to ban them in other products.
"Because really, if we want to prevent water contamination, we have to stop these chemicals at the source," Hayes contended. "When we put them into products, they end up in our environment, and they put public health at risk."
He noted a second list, including 14 more chemicals as emerging contaminants will be published in coming years. Under the law, the New York Department of Health must update the list of emerging contaminants at least every three years.