Lawmakers Invite EPA to Address Rockland County Water Contamination Troubles


U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and freshman Representative Mondaire Jones (D, Nyack) are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to assist the state and county in testing immediately and tracking the chemical in public drinking water sources. 300,000 out of the 326,000 residents of Rockland have drinking water that exceeds New York’s maximum level of contaminating PFOA.

According to a recent press release, the lawmakers want the EPA to aid local regulators in conducting swift water sampling, the first step to facilitating the PFOA clean-up, followed by determining the source of contamination and developing a remediation plan. Schumer said: 

“Hundreds of thousands of Rockland residents having potentially toxic PFOA in their drinking water demands an all-hands-on-deck approach, including the expertise of the EPA.” 

Elevated Levels of Radiation

Several of Suez’s municipal wells were tested, and their PFOA levels were found to be greater than the state’s maximum level for drinking water, which is ten parts per trillion.

According to a media report, the PFOA levels in some of Suez’s well water are nearly twice as high, at 19 parts per trillion. Materials such as firefighting foam, product containers, and stain repellents contain the chemical.

As per the CDC, elevated radiation levels can cause cancer, high blood pressure, and vaccine ineffectiveness in infants. The leaders are pleading with the EPA to intervene to identify the cause of the pollution and assist with clean-up efforts. PFOA and a variety of related contaminants, called PFAS, are also in the water, according to Rob Hayes of Environmental Activists New York, rendering it dangerous for pregnant women and very young children.

“No one should have to worry if the water flowing out of their tap is safe to drink […] that is why Gov. Cuomo’s administration must keep water providers responsible, polluters, accountable, and ensure Rockland people have access to safe water as soon as possible […] currently investing in the requisite infrastructure and facilities improvements […] would necessitate accelerated local permitting approvals.”

Change the Toxicity of the Chemicals

A 2019 nationwide federal study examined the health effects of drinking water contaminated with perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). The study linked the chemicals with health issues, including some types of cancer, immune system problems, high cholesterol, and thyroid disease. The study looked at impacts among adults and children in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The study report said:

“The most recent estimate is there are over 4,700 PFAS chemicals on the global market […] by environmental groups’ estimates, up to 110 million Americans have PFAS in their drinking water.”

Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are very stable human-made chemicals that have properties that allow them to repel both water and oil. The different PFAS have different lengths and/or differ in their properties at one end, which can change the chemicals’ toxicity. The most commonly found and best-studied PFAS are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

Where Are They Found?

These substances’ fat and water-repelling properties allowed them to be applied to almost any material to make it water, oil, and stain repellant. These properties were first used commercially in the 1950s. They are used in various consumer products, including carpets, clothing, non-stick pans, paints, polishes, waxes, cleaning products, and food packaging. Firefighters and the military use them in fire-suppressing foam.

PFAS do not readily breakdown in the environment and are water-soluble. As a result, there are deficient levels of PFAS in many areas of the environment. Higher levels can be found in water supplies near facilities manufactured, disposed of, or used PFAS. Unborn babies can be exposed to PFAS through umbilical cord blood from their mothers during pregnancy.

Exceeds New York State’s Revised Standards

Newborns can be exposed to PFAS through breast milk or through formula made with water that contains PFAS. Older children may be exposed to PFAS through food, water, and other products, similar to adults. Young children have a higher risk of exposure to PFAS from carpet and cleaning products, primarily due to time spent lying and crawling on floors in their early years.

Rockland’s water has been criticized for its odors and brownish taints at times. Its concentration of toxins, some of which are carcinogenic, meets national safety standards but exceeds New York State’s revised standards. That has prompted an outcry from some residents seeking remediation and an investigation into the source of the contamination.