U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today called on Acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Andrew Wheeler to reverse course and commit to setting a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS as soon as possible. The senators explained that perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of toxic chemicals, including PFOS and PFOA, that have contaminated drinking water and impacted thousands of lives in communities across New York and the United States, including the City of Newburgh, Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Suffolk County. According to recent reports, the EPA has decided not to set an MCL for PFOA and PFOS, which the senators said will limit the public’s knowledge about their possible exposure to these toxic substances, hinder potential cleanup efforts and make it more difficult to protect public health. The senators said that the failure to establish a clear, national drinking water standard for these highly toxic and prevalent chemicals would be a mistake, and urged that – with the PFAS management plan still under interagency review – the EPA reverse course and instead expeditiously set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS.
“I could not be more alarmed by the reports that the EPA is on the verge of deciding not to impose a national drinking water standard for cancer-causing PFOA and PFOS. These carcinogenic water contaminants, which have already significantly impacted thousands of lives in New York communities like Newburgh, Suffolk, Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, pose a major threat to public health, and we cannot afford to allow them to go under-regulated,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I’m calling on the EPA to immediately reverse course and set a maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS. The EPA is supposed to be the cop on the beat protecting clean drinking water. They should do their job and not pass the buck when it comes to regulating toxic PFOA/PFOS at the national level.”
“I am extremely disturbed by reports that the EPA might not issue a national drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS. This is the height of irresponsibility, and it is dangerous and insulting to the families all over New York who have already suffered because of contamination from these two specific chemicals in their water,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The EPA is supposed to protect people from dangerous chemicals like PFOA and PFOS, but instead they are shirking their responsibilities, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that these chemicals are highly toxic and widespread in drinking water across the country. The EPA must immediately do the right thing and issue a maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS that protects New Yorkers going forward.”
Schumer and Gillibrand have long fought to address toxic chemical PFOA/PFOS contamination across New York State. In March 2017, the senators introduced legislation that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a maximum contaminant level (MCL) under the Safe Drinking Water Act within 2 years.
Schumer and Gillibrand have fought to address PFOS contamination in New Windsor, impacting Newburgh’s drinking water. In December of 2018, after years of advocacy, Schumer successfully pushed for the ANG to commit to installing interim remediation measures at Recreation Pond in Newburgh. Last November, Schumer met with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to urge the Air Force to rev up the pace of PFOA/PFOS contamination investigations and remediation efforts. In May, Schumer and Gillibrand announced that the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision to authorize the cleanup and safe disposal of PFOS and PFOA that contaminated Stewart Air National Guard base. Gillibrand fought on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include this provision in the final NDAA. Last September, Schumer and Gillibrand successfully included their amendment to provide funding for the Air National Guard (ANG) to make payments to reimburse New York State and local water authorities for their ongoing remediation efforts and cleanup of PFOA and PFOS contamination due to ANG-related activities in the FY2019 Senate Defense Appropriations bill.
Additionally, last July, after Schumer and Gillibrand’s push, a report concerning the health effects of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) was finally released to the public, after its release was seemingly delayed because of political considerations. In September 2017, after Schumer’s urging, DOD immediately began their Site Investigation sampling which included Recreation Pond, another Schumer request, which yielded the highest concentration of PFOS according to the NYDEC’s original testing. In June 2017, during an in-person meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Schumer called on the Department of Defense to participate in the remediation of toxic PFOA/PFOS contamination. Lastly, in May 2017, during a one-on-one meeting with Air Force Secretary Heather Heather Wilson, Schumer called on the USAF to pledge that they would prioritize the prompt remediation of the PFAS contamination at Stewart Air National Guard Base. During Heather Wilson’s nomination hearing to become the Secretary of the Air Force, Gillibrand confirmed Wilson’s commitment to address PFAS contamination in communities throughout New York.
Schumer and Gillibrand have also fought relentlessly to address the PFOA contamination at Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh. In January 2016 Schumer, in a letter to Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, urged the company to address the contamination at Hoosick Falls. On February 1, 2016, Gillibrand wrote to EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck calling on the EPA to expedite the response to the contamination in Hoosick Falls under the federal Superfund law. In July 2016, Gillibrand convened a community forum for residents of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh with representatives from the EPA, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and National Institutes of Health (NIH). In May of 2016, Schumer pushed the EPA to immediately release its updated drinking water health advisory. Schumer said it was critical to address and remediate the full scope of the contamination and fought to get this critical designation for Hoosick Falls. In February 2017, Gillibrand was instrumental in stopping a proposed settlement agreement between the Village of Hoosick Falls and Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics that would have limited the ability of the village to recover future damages from the company for future impacts related to PFOA the contamination.
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are two types of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of manufactured chemicals, and are persistent in the environment and resist degradation. These toxic chemicals are often used to manufacture products like fabric protectors, firefighting foam, and stain repellents. They are common primary ingredients in the firefighting foam that was used at Air National Guard bases for training and fire-suppression exercises, according to state regulators. Exposure to PFAS chemicals has been linked to certain cancers and other serious adverse health effects.
A copy of the senator’s letter to the EPA appears below:
Dear Acting Administrator Wheeler:
We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not intend to move forward with establishing an enforceable drinking water standard for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) at this time. Failure to establish a clear, national drinking water standard for these highly-toxic and prevalent chemicals would be a mistake, and would make it more difficult to protect public health. Therefore, we strongly urge you to reverse course and commit to setting a maximum contaminant level (MCL) under the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS as soon as possible.
As you know, Perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of toxic chemicals affecting communities across the nation. Several communities in our state of New York are confronting massive drinking water contamination, human exposure and clean-up challenges due to PFOA and PFOS pollution. These chemical substances are linked to certain cancers and other serious adverse health effects. They are often used to manufacture products like fabric protectors, firefighting foam, and stain repellents due to rigorous chemical properties that also make them persistent in the environment and resistant to degradation. The likelihood that the challenges that confront these communities will occur in a number of other American communities is high and the existence of an objective, national standard is vital to guide policy makers’ and regulators’ approaches to this challenge.
In deciding not to set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS, the EPA is limiting the public’s knowledge about their possible exposure to these toxic substances, and hindering potential cleanup efforts. Federal inaction on setting limits for these two contaminants is not acceptable. We understand that the PFAS management plan is still under interagency review, and we therefore strongly urge you to reverse course and to expeditiously begin work on setting a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
United States Senator