New York state is moving toward what would be the country's strictest standard for regulating a chemical used in fluoropolymer manufacturing, setting levels that would be significantly more stringent than federal guidelines.
New York's action — in the form of a vote from a key advisory committee — means the state is likely joining New Jersey, Vermont and Minnesota to move toward much stricter regulation of perfluorooctanoic acid.
Specifically, New York is considering a legally-enforceable drinking water standard of 10 parts per trillion of PFOA, which state officials said would be the country's toughest, well below the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advisory guideline level of 70 ppt.
The state's Department of Health is now tasked with taking the recommendations from its Drinking Water Quality Council and turning them into regulations.
While a chemical industry trade group criticized New York's action as going beyond what science supports for public health, one high-ranking state government official told a Dec. 18 council hearing that the vote to recommend a 10 ppt standard would protect people.
"I think the work you've done here today will save lives," said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. "This is New York leading. These are unregulated compounds that no one has taken the chance to regulate the way we have, if this comes to pass through regulation. [It's] nation-leading work."
State officials said water contamination from perfluorinated chemicals comes from a wide range of sources, including firefighting foams and coatings on paper packaging, but the fluoropolymer industry has also been identified as a source.
In New York, the issue came to wide public attention in 2016 with contamination around Saint Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. factories in the village of Hoosick Falls, where Saint Gobain paid for water system upgrades.
Nationally, DuPont Co. and Chemours Co. paid $670 million in 2017 to settle thousands of lawsuits over drinking water contamination from their fluoropolymer manufacturing plant in Parkersburg, W.Va.
And in November, Chemours agreed to pay a $12 million fine to North Carolina and spend $100 million to reduce emissions of GenX, a replacement for PFOA, by 99 percent by the end of 2019, from its Fayetteville Works facility. Chemours also agreed to protect drinking wells in impacted areas. The Fayetteville plant began making GenX commercially in 2009.
If New York's tougher standards prompt similar action in other states, it could mean tougher regulation and higher cleanup costs for companies.
Studies have linked PFOA and PFOS exposure to kidney and testicular cancer, low birth weight and liver tissue damage.