SLG Urges DOH to Strengthen PFAS Standards, Protecting New Yorkers from Toxic "Forever" Chemicals
Recent Rockefeller Institute Brief Shows NY Falls Well Short of EPA Guidance on the Enforceable Drinking Water Standard for PFAS as State's Largest Landfill & Major PFAS Contributor Aims to Expand
SENECA FALLS, NY (11/29/2022) (readMedia)-- Seneca Lake Guardian submitted comments to the New York State Department of Health, urging the Department to strengthen the proposed regulations on PFAS levels in drinking water. A recent Rockefeller Institute policy brief showed that New York is one of nine states that falls well short of the EPA guidance on enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS. The levels set for these standards will determine when drinking water contamination is cleaned up and when New Yorkers are directly notified about what's in their water. Advocates argue that DOH did not propose levels in line with the latest science from the US EPA, which will leave at least half a million New Yorkers exposed to dangerous contamination when they turn on the tap. DOH is accepting public comments on the proposed standards until December 5.
Toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals'' are a family of thousands of chemicals found in many everyday products including GORE-TEX, non-stick pans, popcorn bags, and more. Instead of breaking down, they build up in the environment and in our bodies, often entering through drinking water sources contaminated by landfills. In our bodies, these chemicals primarily build up in the blood, kidney and liver. According to the CDC, exposure to PFAS is linked to harmful health impacts such as cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease, to name a few.
Landfills are one of four major sources of PFAS – or toxic "forever chemicals" – in drinking water including fire training/fire response sites, industrial sites and wastewater treatment plants/biosolids. Once those items containing PFAS make their way to landfills such as New York's largest landfill, Seneca Meadows, leachate containing PFAS flows into our drinking water sources. Located in Seneca Falls, Seneca Meadows landfill produces 75 million gallons of leachate every year which is hauled, untreated, to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, Steuben County.
Standing at 30 stories tall, Seneca Meadows is permitted to accept up to 6,000 tons of waste per day. A quarter of the landfill is made up just of waste from New York City, and the operator plans to add another seven stories and extend operating beyond its 2025 closure date if the DEC grants their permit to do so. Waste Connections, the Texas-based parent company of Seneca Meadows Inc., spent around $200,000 in 2021 promoting pro-landfill candidates who won seats in Town Board and County races and are now supporting the planned seven-story-high expansion.
The comments submitted by Seneca Lake Guardian are below:
November 25, 2022
Katherine Ceroalo, Department Of Health
Electronically Submittedand as an attachment
RE: PFAS Public Comments
Dear Ms. Ceroalo,
Seneca Lake Guardian is a Waterkeeper Alliance Affiliate dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the Finger Lakes, its residents and visitors, its rural community character, and its agricultural and tourist related businesses through public education, citizen participation, engagement with decision makers, and networking with like-minded organizations. We represent hundreds of businesses in the Finger Lakes region that depend on clean water for survival in our world-class tourist destination.
PFAS are extremely dangerous. These chemicals have multiple adverse impacts to public health including liver damage, immune system compromise, increase in instances of kidney and testicular cancer as well as developmental disorders and other health impacts. The science is clear: according to the US EPA and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, there is no safe level of PFOA, PFOS or similar PFAS in our drinking water. In fact, Assembly Members Gottfried and Englebright wrote in a letter to Health Commissioner Bassett earlier this year stressing that zero is the ideal level of PFAS in drinking water.
We do not believe that DOH is doing enough to protect our drinking water. Seneca Lake is in the heart of the Finger Lakes region, contains 4.2 Trillion gallons of fresh water and serves as a drinking water source for 100,000 people. We have long known about PFAS plumes flowing toward both Seneca and Cayuga Lakes from the former Seneca Army Depot, and despite multiple requests for additional information on PFAS levels in both surface and drinking water, we have yet to receive any substantive information or testing results from the DOH. We're also home to the State's largest landfill, Seneca Meadows, which generates 75 million gallons of PFAS-laden leachate annually, less than a third of which is treated on site. The rest is shipped across New York State to Buffalo, Steuben County, Watertown and Chittenango where wastewater treatment facilities receiving the leachate do not have the mechanism to remove these chemicals before discharging into New York's waterways. This is clearly a growing public health threat, and it requires aggressive action. We've learned the hard way from Hoosick Falls that it is critical to be fully transparent with the public about what's in their water; not bury information in lengthy, technical Annual Water Quality Reports, in the hope that people don't find out.
We believe that all PFAS pose a great enough risk to human health that they need to be regulated at the most stringent level. We have to address PFAS as a class, or else it will take decades to protect New Yorkers from this huge group of chemicals. The levels that the DOH sets for drinking water standards will determine how and when PFAS contamination is cleaned up, and when New Yorkers are directly notified about what's in their water. DOH's standards could also be used as benchmarks by DEC to determine when to act to remove these PFAS from private water wells.
The right to clean water and a healthy environment is now a part of our constitution, and New Yorkers just overwhelmingly passed the Environmental Bond Act because our environment is important to everyone, across party lines. This Act includes hundreds of millions of grant dollars to help water utilities install treatment technology, as does the state's Clean Water Infrastructure Act and federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. You can get PFAS out of our water and keep water affordable – meaning we don't have to choose between one or the other, or pass the costs on to consumers. Furthermore, scientists have conservatively estimated that the health costs of exposure to PFOA and PFOS alone ranged between $5.5 billion and $63 billion a year. This vastly outweighs the short-term costs of cleanup, so inaction or failure to revise NY's standards will be far costlier than being proactive on PFAS.
New York must become a national leader on PFAS. DOH's standards will be in place for years or decades to come, increasing the urgency to set strong standards from the start. We urge you to set PFAS drinking water standards as close to zero as technologically feasible. We urge DOH to set standards comparable to our neighboring states like Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island by establishing individual PFAS Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and a combined PFAS MCL between 2 and 4 ppt, and a single combined Notification Level below 20 ppt. We strongly urge you to lower New York's current MCLs on PFOA and PFOS, which you failed to do in your proposal. In a part of the state that is blessed with seemingly unlimited resources of fresh water, we cannot allow our water to be less protected than drinking water in other states. We urge you to follow the science on these forever chemicals by strengthening your proposal to get toxic PFAS out of our water.
Principals, Seneca Lake Guardian
Cc: Governor Kathy Hochul
Basil Seggos, DEC Commissioner
Seneca Meadows Inc. Landfill
The Seneca Meadows landfill, located in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of American Women's Rights, is the largest of 27 landfills in New York State. It is permitted to accept 6,000 tons of waste and produce up to 200,000 gallons of polluted leachate – formed when rainwater filters through waste – per day. A quarter of the landfill – which stands at 30 stories tall – is trash from NYC, followed by four other states.
Seneca Meadows was previously required to stop receiving waste and halt operations by December 31, 2025. However, Waste Connections, the Texas based parent company of Seneca Meadows Inc., spent around $200,000 in 2021 promoting pro-landfill candidates who won seats in Town Board and County races and are now supporting the Valley Infill, SMI's planned seven-story high expansion. The expansion would keep the landfill operating through 2040 with allowable dumping on the Valley Infill (the former toxic Tantalo superfund site), rising another 70 feet into the viewscape. Even with the planned closure in 2025, the mountain of garbage promises years of problems and remediation that could take generations to mitigate.
Leachate and wastewater runoff from the landfill contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can cause widespread contamination of drinking water and harmful health impacts. Seneca Meadows produces 75 million gallons of leachate each year which is distributed not just to Seneca Falls but also to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, and Steuben County, contaminating drinking water across the state.
SMI is located two miles from Cayuga-Seneca Canal and three miles from every school in Seneca Falls and Waterloo, exposing students to airborne particulates and unseen gasses known to contribute to respiratory illness, asthma, and migraine headaches. The landfill cannot process all of the methane that is generated and is forced to burn almost a billion cubic feet per year in 5 flares, contributing to climate change.
SMI is harming the Finger Lakes' natural resources that have led to the region being under consideration for a National Heritage Area Designation, and which the $3 billion, 60,000-employee wine and agritourism economy relies on. The odor from the landfill can be smelled from miles away, including at Thruway exit 41, the northern gateway to the Finger Lakes. Large, sustainable employers in the area are finding it difficult to recruit and retain employees, because nobody wants to raise a family near a dangerous landfill.
SMI's expansion is also at odds with the overwhelmingly popular amendment to the New York state constitution passed last year, which guarantees every New Yorker the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment.
About Seneca Lake Guardian
Seneca Lake Guardian is a New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation with 501(c)(3) and is dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the Finger Lakes, its residents and visitors, its rural community character, and its agricultural and tourist related businesses through public education, citizen participation, engagement with decision makers, and networking with like-minded organizations.