Cuomo announces new 'rapid response' team for New York water quality


HOOSICK FALLS, NY — Prompted by water issues in the village and elsewhere, state environmental and health agencies will run a new initiative charged with reviewing current water protection practices and standards for unregulated contaminants, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday.

Dubbed the "Water Quality Rapid Response Team," the statewide effort aims to use the latest science to review chemicals like the one found in the village water supply, manage oversight of drinking water systems and prevent future water pollution.

Cuomo's actions follow fierce criticism towards actions in Flint, Mich., as well as dissatisfaction with village and state officials among residents in Hoosick Falls, where perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contaminated the tap water.

"One of the main environmental issues which is emerging is the quality of the drinking water," Cuomo said at a news conference at Stony Brook University Thursday morning. "The long-term effects of pollution all through the state ... is now making itself visible in ways that we have never seen before."

Cuomo, whose administration has been accused of having a slow response to the Hoosick Falls issue, said the state did not test for PFOA for many years because the EPA classified it as an "unregulated contaminant." He said manufacturers for years used many chemicals that were never tested and stated, "we are now suffering from literally the stain of the manufacturing era." Water issues like the one in Hoosick Falls aren't isolated, he said, but a "precursor of what we are going to see going forward."

The new team was directed to create an action plan "to immediately address water quality issues raised by municipalities and concerned citizens," according to a press release from the governor's office. That includes contaminants already regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, such as lead, to "emerging contaminants," like PFOA. The plan would ultimately recommend ways to better protect groundwater, surface water and drinking water.

Co-chairs will be Basil Seggos, Department of Environmental Conservation acting commissioner, and Howard Zucker, commissioner for the Department of Health.

For decades, Hoosick Falls factories manufactured products like wire insulation and glass laminates coated with Teflon, a dirt, oil and water-repelling substance. PFOA was a key processing agent used to make Teflon for many years and has been linked to cancer and other diseases.

Major companies agreed in 2006 to phase-out its use by 2015. But the village water supply and some nearby private wells were found to have PFOA above the EPA advisory.

Other announcements by Cuomo included:

• Testing water at the former Northrop Grumman manufacturing site on Long Island, where a plume of toxic chemicals threatens local water supplies.

• Launching a comprehensive ground water study on Long Island's drinking water.

• New regulations that aim to prevent mulch processing facilities from contaminating ground and surface water sources.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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