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Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

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Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Fluoropolymer coatings are blends of resins and lubricants used in products such as water-repellent clothing, furniture, adhesives, paint and varnish, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces and insulation of electrical wires.

Chemicals in this group include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).

Perfluorooctanoic Acid and Perfluorooctane Sulfonic Acid

Although the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is being phased out, the chemical is still used to make household and commercial products that resist heat and repel stains.

Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) is used in fire-fighting foam and is a newly listed hazardous substance (as is PFOA). See fact sheet about Storage and Use of Fire Fighting Foams.

Why PFAS are a Concern and Related Health Information

Some PFAS do not break down easily and persist for a long time in the environment, especially in water. Their toxicity and persistence in the environment means they are a potential danger to public health and the environment. Additional information on potential health impacts can be found in a 2016 NYS Department of Health (DOH) letter contained in a regulatory impact statement (PDF) and a DOH Fact Sheet: Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in Drinking Water, Hoosick Falls (PDF).

National Contamination Issue

In early 2016, New York, joined by Vermont and New Hampshire, urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to acknowledge that PFOA contamination is a national problem that requires consistent federal guidelines. On May 19, 2016, EPA issued a lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion (PPT) for long-term exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.

New York State Response to PFAS Contamination

Water Quality Rapid Response Team (WQRRT)
In February 2016, Governor Cuomo created a Water Quality Rapid Response Team, led by DEC and DOH, to quickly investigate water contamination reports across New York and take corrective action to address these contamination issues. This team is seen as a national model to research, identify and quickly address water contamination in communities. The WQRRT has been working to identify and address drinking water issues across the state, including sampling of public water and private wells around facilities suspected or known to have used PFAS.

To enhance these efforts, in April 2017 the Governor signed the unprecedented $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017. The Act will provide direct support to help communities to upgrade aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and protect drinking water sources by conserving open space and addressing contaminants, prioritizing regional collaboration at the watershed scale and creating thousands of jobs in the process. This will include funding to upgrade drinking water infrastructure with modern filtration systems and connect contaminated private drinking water wells to regulated public systems, as well as additional support for the State Superfund program. In addition, the Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 has directed DEC, in consultation with DOH, to build a comprehensive database, evaluate and prioritize over 1750 inactive solid waste sites statewide to determine any potential impacts from PFAS and/or other contaminants of concern on drinking water sources resulting from any of these sites and to provide recommendations for remediation and mitigation measures for the sites impacting drinking water sources. As a part of this process, the Departments are conducting drinking water sampling in areas where groundwater may have been impacted to verify drinking water quality and to identify appropriate next steps.

Emergency Rule and Final Rule
In January 2016, New York became the first state in the nation to regulate PFOA as a hazardous substance followed by the regulation of PFOS in April 2016. The regulation requires the proper storage of the substances and limited releases to the environment, and enabled the state to use its legal authority and resources of the State Superfund program to advance investigations and cleanups of impacted sites. The Final Rule for PFOA and PFOS became effective on March 3, 2017. By finalizing the regulations, the state has solidified its authority to hold polluters accountable whenever PFOA and PFOS contamination is found.

State Firefighting Foam Collection Efforts
Through funding prioritized by Governor Cuomo in the Environmental Protection Fund, DEC has worked with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to launch a collection program for the removal and appropriate disposal of firefighting foam containing perfluorinated compounds. Through the $600,000 investment, DEC worked with municipal fire and emergency response departments across the state to dispose of the contaminated foam. As of summer 2018, more than 25,000 gallons of contaminated foam has been collected and properly disposed; collections are ongoing.

Statewide PFAS Survey
DEC surveyed select businesses, fire departments, fire training centers, bulk storage facilities, airports, and Department of Defense (DoD) facilities from June to September 2016. The responses to the survey have helped to determine if these entities used or stored materials containing PFOA/PFOS including AFFF and dispersants used in Teflon coating operations. The results of this survey will be updated periodically as additional responses are received.

The information gathered through the Department's survey efforts is being used to identify and investigate water quality in additional areas where a potential for PFAS contamination may exist. This process involves identifying facilities that used, stored, disposed of, or manufactured PFOA or PFOS-containing materials, and whether those facilities are near any public or private drinking water supply wells.

Facilities that meet these criteria have been evaluated for possible well sampling for PFOA/PFOS. As additional independent information comes to the attention of DEC, that information is also used to determine if additional evaluation of a facility is needed.

Once it is determined that sampling is warranted at a facility, viable groundwater wells that may already exist on or near the facility will be sampled. For facilities that do not have any existing wells onsite, requests will be made to sample private water supply wells surrounding the facility to assess the water quality of those nearby wells. If elevated concentrations of PFOA and/or PFOS are found, then steps will be taken to mitigate any existing or potential exposures.

Actions Taken to Address Contamination
In 2016, water supplies in several localities in New York were identified as being contaminated by PFOA or PFOS beyond acceptable levels. Remedial actions have been taken to ensure clean water is being provided in the Hoosick area.

Find specific details for the following municipalities (including maps, bottled water pick-up and testing information):

DOH is the lead agency on local water supply concerns.


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