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State to test for 37 ad­di­tional chemicals in public drinking water

  • 8 March 2022
  • ckearns

Newburgh leaders helped pass a state law they said can prevent other communities from going through what they did in 2016, when the area’s tap water was suddenly deemed undrinkable.

Fifty-year Newburgh resident and Ward 3 Councilman Bob Sklarz is awaiting results of his second blood test for levels of PFAS chemicals.

Government studies have indicated exposure to PFAS chemicals may increase risks of liver disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and some cancers.

What You Need To Know

  • Newburgh leaders joined the area’s state-level lawmakers at the city’s water filtration plant Thursday to announce a law change to better monitor PFAS chemicals and their substitutes
  • State Sen. James Skoufis sponsored the legislation requiring testing for 37 more chemicals in all public water systems in New York State
  • The new law, approved with bipartisan support and signed by Gov. Hochul, also requires contaminant testing for water systems serving fewer than 10,000 people

Sklarz said his first test in 2016 showed high levels of some types of PFAS.

“I’m hoping the test that was done yesterday will show that it’s dropped over time,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping, anyway.”

In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set stricter standards for acceptable levels of the chemicals in drinking water. Under that change, the concentration of the "forever chemicals" was suddenly deemed too high in Newburgh’s water system, and several others nationwide.

PFAS chemicals are used to make many household products, including non-stick kitchenware. They were also found in firefighting foam used at nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base.

The foam was later found to have contaminated the Newburgh area water supply, Washington Lake. The city and surrounding towns abandoned the reservoir and connected to the Catskill Aqueduct, which also supplies water to New York City.

Sklarz joined the Newburgh area’s state-level lawmakers at the city’s water filtration plant Thursday to announce a law to better monitor PFAS chemicals and their substitutes.

Since 2017, major public water systems in New York had to be tested for some commonly-known PFAS chemicals.

Also since 2017, several other unregulated chemicals have been used as substitutes for the more closely monitored PFAS chemicals, and have made appearances in water supplies nationwide. They are known as “emerging contaminants.”

State Sen. James Skoufis said levels of the contaminants in drinking water should be better controlled before the EPA learns the level of harm they pose to humans and the environment. He sponsored the legislation requiring testing for 37 more chemicals in all public water systems in New York.

“Most municipalities, most members of the public, will demand that there be action taken to remediate,” Skoufis said Thursday, “but you can’t know to do something…if you don’t know the chemical exists in your supply to begin with.”

The new law, approved with bipartisan support and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, also requires contaminant testing for water systems serving fewer than 10,000 people.

Those smaller suppliers used to receive an exemption from regular testing from the federal government.

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