Health commissioner: State acted properly on tainted water
HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. (AP) -- New York's health commissioner says federal guidelines on maximum levels of the chemical PFOA in drinking water are intended to trigger action to reduce it, not to warn against drinking the water.
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker made the comments at a state Senate hearing Tuesday when asked why his agency told Hoosick Falls residents no health impacts were expected from drinking municipal water even after tests showed elevated levels of PFOA.
Zucker says his agency had a solution well underway when the Environmental Protection Agency "out of left field" told residents not to drink the water in December 2015.
Hoosick Falls residents have accused Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration of taking too long to warn them against drinking water contaminated with a chemical linked to cancer and other ills.
DEC and DOH Statement
We thank the EPA Administrator for her prompt response-and for her acknowledgement that there were extensive conversations between our agencies and the Region 2 EPA office regarding Hoosick Falls. Conveniently though, the Administrator's letter leaves out two important facts that lie at the heart of the confusion that EPA Region 2 created:
1) The EPA was notified in December 2014 at the time the contamination was discovered, and the EPA agreed with the state's approach and response until there was a sudden shift in policy from EPA's Region 2 office a year later in December 2015.
2) The following month, in January 2016, the EPA Regional Administrator issued a new 100 parts per trillion guidance value for PFOA that only applied to private wells in the Village of Hoosick Falls and the Town of Hoosick but nowhere else in the state or country, let alone the Hoosick Falls public water supply.
Despite the Regional Administrators claims to the contrary, our agencies followed the EPA's official 2009 health advisory guidance for addressing PFOA in drinking water and, after a bipartisan call from the Governors of New York, New Hampshire and Vermont to do so, appreciated the EPA's establishment of a lifetime health advisory level in May 2016. However, Region 2 Administrator Enck's independent decision to issue a 100 parts per trillion guidance level that only applied to Hoosick Falls private wells - and the unprecedented do not drink recommendation nearly a year after the EPA was informed - were conflicting guidelines that caused confusion and anxiety. Prior to any action by the EPA, the state Department of Health had already instituted a bottled water program for the community as a precautionary measure and had secured funding from St. Gobain for a granular activated carbon filtration system on the public supply.
We encourage the Region 2 Administrator to move beyond making inflammatory statements to the media and encourage her to accept the State Legislature's invitation to testify at the water quality hearings. She has previously appeared before the New York State Assembly on issues like climate change, and it's unfortunate that she is choosing to duck her responsibility to answer questions about the EPA's role in the response to the Hoosick Falls water contamination.
Moreover, our agencies know full well our responsibilities under the Superfund Law and Safe Drinking Water Act and we remain committed to holding polluters accountable, which is why we've listed PFOA as a hazardous substance and listed the Saint Gobain plant as a state Superfund site - both of which the federal government has still failed to do. When the federal government inserts itself into a situation and causes confusion, the state fully believes they should bear responsibility for any costs borne by the state that cannot be recovered from polluters.