Pictured Above: A SCWA water main being installed in Manorville in 2023.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday, April 10 that it is setting a new, stringent standard for perfluorinated compounds in public drinking water supplies.

The compounds, known collectively as PFAS, were frequently used in the 20th Century in household items ranging from fabric protectors to food packaging to cosmetics and non-stick cookware, and are also a primary component of firefighting foam used to coat flammable liquids during vehicle and aviaton fires. In recent years they have been strongly linked to a wide variety of health risks, including some cancers, weakening of immune systems, hormone disruption, decreased fertility and developmental delays.

The compounds are frequently found in plumes in groundwater downgradient from sites like airports and firefighting training grounds, including on the East End. Local governments, the Suffolk County Water Authority and local water districts have been working over the past several years to provide public water to residents who have private wells in the path of these plumes, including adjacent to the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott, Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, the former Grumman plant at EPCAL in Calverton and the Suffolk County Fire Academy training grounds in Yaphank. The Hampton Bays Water District, overseen by the Town of Southampton, also recently installed carbon filtration systems to filter out PFAS. The compounds have also recently been found in private drinking water wells in Orient, where there is not access to public water.

New York turned heads when it became one of the first states to set a drinking water standard for PFAS of 10 parts per trillion back in 2020, but this new nationwide ruling more than halves that standard, lowering it to 4 parts per trillion.

Public drinking water providers are expected to meet the new standard by 2029. The EPA also announced April 10 that it will be providing up to $1 billion in federal infrastructure funding to help public water suppliers meet those standards. The EPA estimates this rule will reduce PFAS exposure for 100 million people — just shy of a third of the U.S. population, and help meet the Biden administration’s Cancer Moonshot goal of reducing the cancer rate by at least a half by 2047.

“Today is a historic day for drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a national drinking water standard for certain PFAS,” said Suffolk County Water Authority Chairman Charles Lefkowitz, after the EPA approved the new rules. “We applaud them for taking this critical step to protect public health. Since the announcement of the proposed rule last year, the Suffolk County Water Authority has been preparing for this and we are well on our way to meeting all regulatory requirements within the timeframe laid out by EPA.”

The Water Authority added that about 1/3 of its wells are equipped with Granular Activated Carbon treatment systems that filter out PFAS any many other contaminants, and that it “has its own internal standard that is lower than state regulatory requirements,” with a goal of eliminating “all manmade contaminants from drinking water before that water is sent to the distribution system.”

“Since 2020, when New York enacted its own PFAS rules, SCWA has been meeting or surpassing all standards,” added Mr. Lefkowitz. “It has given us a great head start on the new rules, but there is still work to be done. Our customers should rest assured that the water that comes out of their tap is treated for PFAS when it is detected and that the water that they drink is of the highest quality.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you're human: