News Feature | June 27, 2017

Audit Indicates NY Needs Stronger Water Oversight

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A new audit of water systems in New York state calls for stronger drinking water oversight.

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, an elected official tasked with auditing government operations, released the 18-page report this week, arguing that the state needs to step up its protection of drinking water.

“The current federal-state regulatory structure can leave significant gaps in protections for New Yorkers. News of water contamination in places such as the City of Newburgh and the Village of Hoosick Falls shows the vulnerabilities that may arise as a result,” the report said.

DiNapoli said water system superintendents must be more transparent in reporting results. The report also found that the state health department should “maintain a up-to-date database on contaminants that could pose water system hazards, along with detailing their maximum allowable levels,” WGRZ reported.

Here are some of the top recommendations from the Comptroller's Office, per WGRZ:

  • Create a statewide response plan, with public input, to effectively address drinking water contamination incidents.
  • Create a statewide program that would proactively monitor the health of residents exposed to drinking water contaminants.
  • Apply a more precautionary approach for contaminants that are unregulated at the federal level.

The backdrop is that New York has faced serious drinking water crises in recent years.

“Alarm bells sounded in Hoosick Falls when its water supply showed up dangerous levels of Perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA], a water and oil repellent, used since the 1940s in products including non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and microwave popcorn bags. And it had been hidden in the supply for years, posing serious hazards to village water customers,” the New York Daily News reported.

In addition, the city of Newburgh has struggled with PFOA, WGRZ reported.

New York is hardly alone in struggling with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). A study released this month by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Northeastern University in Boston showed PFCs are found in “drinking water for 15 million Americans in 27 states,” TIME reported.

The EWG report pointed out that various New York policymakers have sought to crack down on PFCs:

  • Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, both of New York, have introduced a bill that would require the EPA to set drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS.
  • Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York has introduced legislation that would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the health impacts of PFCs and similar chemicals in drinking water.