Gillibrand wants to set enforceable standards for water contaminants

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks about her bipartisan legislation, the Rural Jobs and Investment Act, during a visit to Norsk Titanium in Plattsburgh in September 2018. Beside her is Garry Douglas, head of the North Country Chamber of Commerce. (Provided photo — Kayla Breen, Press-Republican)

PLATTSBURGH — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is among those attempting to install bipartisan legislation that would address contaminants in drinking water like those found in groundwater around the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base.

The legislation Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., would require the Environmental Protection Agency to establish an enforceable standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act for per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water after years of inaction.

PFAS are a group of thousands of manufactured chemicals that can seep into drinking water supplies and have contaminated communities in New York, West Virginia and all across the country.

They have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease and weakened childhood immunity.

Contaminated groundwater

In March, the former PAFB property in the town of Plattsburgh was identified as one of 106 military or former military sites nationwide that have contaminated groundwater.

Fort Drum outside Watertown and two sites in Oneida County, the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome and a Defense Logistics Agency site in Verona, have also been identified as contaminated by chemicals.

A new report shows potentially 19 million Americans are using public water systems exposed to PFAS contamination, yet the EPA has not moved quickly enough to create regulatory standards to protect Americans from this serious health hazard, according to a news release from Gillibrand.

The chemicals that contaminated PAFB, which existed from 1955 to 1995, were in foam used to fight jet fuel fires.

High levels of PFAS were found in 2015 at the former base property.

The private wells of four nearby homes are being treated as a result of the chemical discovery; the public water system serving the former base and environs is not contaminated, officials said.

Widespread crisis

The legislation Gillibrand is sponsoring would require EPA to set a Maximum Contaminant Level and Primary National Drinking Water Regulation for PFAS within two years of the bill becoming law.

Maximum Contaminant Levels are health-based standards the EPA sets for drinking water quality to determine the legal limit of a contaminant that is permitted in public water systems.

This bill would group all PFAS chemicals under one Maximum Contaminant Level.

“It is the EPA’s job to protect Americans from highly toxic chemicals like PFAS, but they have failed to do what is necessary to help ensure our families in New York and across the country are no longer exposed to dangerous levels of PFAS in their drinking water,” said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“This is a widespread crisis that is putting the health of millions of Americans at risk, and I’m proud to partner with Senator Capito on this bipartisan legislation to require the EPA to finally establish a clear national drinking water standard for PFAS and protect public health.”

Wants study released

Gillibrand has long been working to protect communities exposed to PFAS chemicals.

In March, she grilled federal officials on the health risks of PFAS during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, citing the devastating health concerns for New York residents in communities contaminated with PFAS such as Hoosick Falls and those surrounding Stewart and Gabreski Air National Guard bases.

Gillibrand helped secure $10 million in federal funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a nationwide study on PFAS health effects and also helped secure $20 million for cleanup in the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense-Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Act to communities that have suffered from PFAS contamination as a result of activity from the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard.

She also led the push demanding that the Trump administration release the Department of Health and Human Services study she says it was trying to keep secret that revealed PFAS poses a danger to human health at lower levels than EPA was telling the public.