Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ called PFAS detected in dozens of LI water districts
Nearly half of the tap water in the U.S. is contaminated with toxic chemicals known as PFAS, according to a new study, and Long Island is no exception. The contaminants have been linked to weakened immune systems, cancer and other health problems.
Team 12 Investigates reviewed water quality reports from 48 water districts across Long Island and found 33 water districts have traces of PFAS in their drinking water.
At least 30 water districts detected levels below New York’s standard of 10 parts per trillion, but above what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now considers safe.
“The standards are getting more stringent, and we’ll be required to put more treatment in place to make sure that by the time the water gets to your tap that it’s safe to drink,” said CEO of the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) Jeffrey Szabo.
Our cameras went inside the Suffolk County Water Authority’s state-of-the-art laboratory in Hauppauge, where they have been testing for PFAS before it became a regulated contaminant.
Many communities with private wells are turning to SCWA for clean drinking water. Their equipment can detect levels as low as 2 parts per trillion but getting to even lower levels is a challenge due to funding and technology barriers.
“That really is the challenge because certainly there’s an expense to remove all of these contaminants,” said Director of Water Quality and Laboratory Services at SCWA Tom Schneider. “Our goal is to treat to non-detect. They’re so hard to get rid of so it’s going to be a challenge for a long time no doubt.”
Later this summer, the SCWA will apply for a nearly $100 million state grant to invest in water treatment.
The EPA is proposing near-zero levels of PFAS, not to exceed 4 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS. If fully implemented, the rule will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses, the agency stated.
The EPA anticipates finalizing the regulation by the end of 2023. For now, water districts are not required to take any action to remove levels of PFAS that are between four parts per trillion and 10 parts per trillion.
“Right now, on Long Island, we do have people drinking toxic chemicals lower than 10 parts per trillion because your water is getting filtered if you have ten or above, but it's not getting filtered if it's below that mark,” said Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment Adrienne Esposito.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an environmental advocacy group, created an interactive map where people can find PFAS contamination levels in their communities.