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New York to Propose Stringent Drinking Water Standards

On December 18, 2018, the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council, in consultation with the Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation, recommended drinking water standards for three so-called “emerging contaminants” – 1,4-Dioxane, perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (“PFOS”). The recommended “maximum contaminant levels” or “MCLs” are 1 part per billion (“ppb”) for 1,4-Dioxane, and 10 parts per trillion (“ppt”) for PFOA and PFOS. The State announced in its press release that the new standards for these contaminants if adopted would be the “nation’s most protective.” The next step is for the Department of Health to issue a proposed rulemaking that will begin the formal process to adopt these new standards into law, something the agency is expected to initiate over the next 60-days. The proposed rulemaking will include a public comment period of at least 60-days. The expectation is that the Department of Health will formally adopt the new MCLs by the end of 2019.

The detection of 1,4-Dioxane, PFOA and PFOS in drinking water supplies around the State came to light from recent testing performed by water districts pursuant to a regulation promulgated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) in 2012. Section 1445(a)(2) of the Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 U.S.C. § 300j-4(a)(2), requires EPA to issue every 5-years a new list of no more than 30 unregulated contaminants to be monitored by public water systems. On May 2, 2012, EPA issued its third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Regulation, requiring public drinking water supplies to conduct monitoring for 29 previously unregulated contaminants, including 1,4-Dioxane, PFOA and PFOS. See 77 Fed. Reg. 25859, 26074 (May 2, 2012). Subsequent testing performed by water districts indicated the existence of these contaminants at relatively low levels in several drinking water supplies around the State, including in several water supplies on Long Island, and in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh and Plattsburgh.

The detection of 1,4-Dioxane, PFOA and PFOS in water supplies, in turn, caused the Cuomo administrative to include in its 2017-18 budget the creation of New York State Drinking Water Quality Council, which was tasked with making recommendations to the Department of Health related to the regulation of emerging contaminants. See Public Health Law § 1113. 1,4-Dioxane, PFOA and PFOS were highlighted as examples of the types of contaminants to be regulated. Id. § 1112(3)(c). The Council has since held public meetings regarding the regulation of these contaminants, most recently on December 18, 2018, when it announced the recommended MCLs.

Once finalized by the Department of Health, the MCLs for 1,4-Dioxane, PFOA and PFOS will require the modification of treatment facilities around the State, at significant cost. For example, while 1,4-Dioxane is a volatile organic compound (“VOC”), traditional systems used to treat VOCs, like air strippers and activated carbon, cannot alone remove 1,4-Dioxane from water supplies. Reports show that installation of an Advanced Oxidation System that uses ultraviolet radiation and either ozone or hydrogen peroxide are effective in removing 1,4-Dioxane. By contrast, PFOA and PFOS are relatively easily removed by activated carbon systems. Water Districts in New York can apply for funding through the Environmental Facilities Corporation, which will provide up to 80 percent of the cost to fund these new systems.

The new standards are also expected to impact landfill operations. For example, while 1,4-Dioxane was used as a stabilizer in some solvents, it is also included in personal care products, including detergents, dishwashing soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, deodorants, and body lotions. PFOA also comes from common household products, like non-stick pans, furniture, cosmetics, household cleaners, clothing, and packaged food containers. PFOS is used as a fabric protector and is often included as an active ingredient in fire-fighting foam. Since each of these contaminants is included in household products, one can expect they will also turn up in landfill leachate, which is typically treated on-site or taken off-site to be disposed at a sewage treatment plant. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is in the process of conducted a study to determine the prevalence of these contaminants in landfill leachate around the State.

The new MCLs are also expected to impact the investigation as well as remediation of hazardous waste sites and Brownfield sites. The standard for 1,4 dioxane is lower than the ambient water quality standards for other common solvents observed in New York State waters (most of which are set at 5 ppb), and the standards for PFOA and PFOS are significantly lower than 1 ppb.

Thus, they are predicted to increase the scope of site remediation projects where such measures are identified as feasible and where the source is identified as existing at the hazardous waste site.

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About this Author

Robert Rosenthal, Greenberg Traurig Law Firm, Albany, Energy and Environment Law Attorney

Robert M. Rosenthal focuses his practice on environmental and energy law matters, including litigation and permitting. He is experienced with the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and associated state programs, the New York Solid Waste Management Act, and the New York Public Service Law. He also concentrates his practice on State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review, toxic tort litigation, Brownfields redevelopment, and the governmental, environmental, and energy aspects of land use and real estate. Bob has wide-ranging experience litigating cases in both federal...

Steven Russo, Greenberg Traurig Law Firm, New York, Environmental and Real Estate Litigation Attorney

Steven C. Russo chairs the firm’s New York Environmental Practice. He focuses his practice on environmental law and litigation, environmental permitting, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review, toxic tort litigation, environmental crimes, Brownfields redevelopment, government, energy and the environmental aspects of land use and real estate law. Steven is equally experienced litigating in federal and state courts, as well as counseling his clients with regard to environmental liability risk and due diligence, permitting, Brownfields, and impact assessment and review. He also practices election and campaign finance law.

Prior to joining the firm, Steven was the Chief Legal Officer of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. There, he supervised approximately 90 attorneys in Albany, as well as the agency’s nine regional offices. He also supervised the agency’s legislative affairs department and Office of Environmental Justice. At the agency, Steven initiated a reform of the state’s environmental review regulations and assessment forms, completed the issuance of new power plant siting regulations pertaining to environmental justice and carbon emissions and revised the agency’s environmental audit policy.

Steven also serves as election law counsel to a number of New York State and federal campaigns and political parties.