Loophole in Federal Regulations Exempts Public Water Systems Serving Less Than 10,000 People from Testing Unregulated Contaminants, Affecting 2.5 Million New Yorkers
One-Third of All New Yorkers – 6.5 Million People – Get Their Drinking Water from Public Water Systems Or Private Wells Not Required to Test
Commissioners Urge EPA to Reform and Expand Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring to Include All Public Water Systems – Or State Will Take Action
Administration Will Also Advance Legislation to Require Testing of Private Wells and Calls on Legislature to Support
Letter to Administrator McCarthy Can be Viewed Here
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today called for aggressive new water quality protections to protect New Yorkers and ensure clean drinking water.
In a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker urged the EPA to close a loophole in federal oversight that exempts public water systems that serve less than 10,000 people from its Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule program. Under the status quo, public water systems serving some 2.5 million New York State residents are not required to be tested for these contaminants.
Combined with those who use private wells for drinking water, 6.5 million people – one-third of all New Yorkers and nearly 60 percent of residents outside of New York City – rely on water systems that do not require the testing of emerging contaminants such as perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Governor Cuomo will also be advancing legislation to address the EPA’s failure to provide oversight of private wells by requiring testing for contaminants by homeowners prior to the sale of a home and mandating that landlords test their properties and share those results with tenants.
"We firmly believe that the health and safety of our residents should not depend on the size of the town in which they live," Commissioner Zucker said. "The EPA’s current testing requirements leave millions of New Yorkers in the dark about the quality of their water simply because they are not part of large water systems. If the EPA fails to act, we will move new legislation to mandate the testing of unregulated contaminants in the 9,000 public water systems across the state. The administration is also advancing legislation to require the testing of private wells – which currently have no federal oversight whatsoever. We urge the legislature to join us in supporting these critical actions.”
"At DEC, we work to remediate pollution in communities of all sizes. By only requiring testing of water systems that serve 10,000 residents or more, the EPA's current program does not reflect the reality of drinking water in our state and across the country," Commissioner Seggos said. "I strongly urge the EPA to reform their inadequate, subjective threshold for the requirement of testing of unregulated contaminants in public water systems. In addition, I encourage the Legislature to back our proposal to require testing of private wells. Whether you’re buying a home or renting an apartment, you should have access to information about the quality of water you are drinking.”
Require Testing of All Public Water Systems
The EPA’s current UCMR program mandates testing for unregulated contaminants in only 188 of the state’s 9,000 public water supplies. The UCMR program does not apply to water systems with less than 10,000 people – which means that 2,700 smaller community water systems and more than 6,000 other non-municipal water systems, like businesses and schools, are not required to test.
The result is that approximately 2.5 million New Yorkers are provided water from a system that is not required by the EPA to test for unregulated contaminants. This lack of federal oversight creates situations like Hoosick Falls, where for potentially decades, residents were drinking water contaminated with PFOA, which remains unregulated by the federal government and since it was not on the village’s testing list. The letter asks that these important changes to federal oversight of unregulated contaminants testing are made prior to the end of the current administration.
The letter from Commissioner Seggos and Commissioner Zucker makes a number of specific requests to the EPA:
- Expansion of the UCMR program to require sampling of unregulated contaminants for all public water supplies – no matter the size – to protect the 2.5 million New Yorkers who currently drink water from systems not required to test.
- Sampling results of unregulated contaminants should be provided to states in a timely and transparent manner, since the EPA currently does not report them.
- Actionable guidance to make clear the steps that should be taken when unregulated contaminants are detected in a water supply.
- Funding and technical assistance to support sampling, analysis, and technologies to address unregulated contaminants in drinking water.
If the EPA fails to comply with the state’s request to overhaul their egregiously inadequate monitoring program, the Administration will:
- aggressively pursue legislation to mandate the testing of public water supplies for unregulated contaminants, regardless of size.
- take into consideration specific issues affecting localities across the state and require additional testing based on each particular circumstance.
- provide funding opportunities for small community water systems with financial hardship.
The letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy can be viewed here.
Require Testing of Private Wells
In February, Governor Cuomo established the New York State Water Quality Rapid Response Team, co-chaired by Commissioners Seggos and Zucker, to swiftly identify and address New York’s most critical drinking water contamination concerns. A major challenge identified through this effort is the fact that the EPA fails to provide any degree of regulatory oversight for the nation’s private wells.
- There are 1.1 million private wells in New York State, serving nearly four million residents, yet the EPA does not require any testing of those wells – even during a home purchase. In response to this shortcoming, the Administration will be advancing legislation to require the testing of private wells upon sale of property and upon construction of a new well. In addition, the legislation will require landlords to conduct testing of private wells and notify tenants of the results.
- The required testing will include a subset of regulated contaminants that pose a threat to human health and are most often detected in private wells.
- Testing for unregulated contaminants may also be required in areas where contamination is known or suspected to exist due to previous sampling or proximity to a state or federally designated Superfund site.
- If a test shows an exceedance of a contaminant, the private well owner will be required to notify the county or state Department of Health.
- The party selling or renting the property will be expected to cover the expense of the required sampling, which currently costs approximately $400, but is expected to drop to $200-300 due to increased demand.
- The state will also provide hardship funding to low-income homeowners and seniors.
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