PFAS, or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a large, diverse class of man-made chemicals.There are over 5,000 PFAS compounds, often referred to as ‘forever’ chemicals because they do not naturally break down. Used in a variety of industrial and consumer products, PFAS chemicals gained popularity because their application could make products water, stain, and heat resistant.

Exposure to chemicals have been linked to a variety of health effects including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and others. While some are exposed through their profession, think firefighters, the more common exposure to the general public is through ground water or drinking water. Some of the first locations of known PFAS contamination were near military bases, as they were frequent users of firefighting foam.

Contamination in New York State
In 2016, New York State residents in Hoosick Falls, a village of under 5,000 people northeast of Albany, received notification from the USEPA that their water was unsafe to drink because of PFOA contamination. Many members of the community were experiencing health issues, including several types of cancer. One resident tested their tap water and results came back showing a PFOA level of 540 parts per trillion. USEPA’s current health advisory levels are 70 parts per trillion. The village was home to several manufacturing facilities that utilized the PFAS chemicals. The 3 companies blamed for the contamination agreed to a $65.25 million preliminary settlement in 2021.

Current Testing
Currently, NYS Department of Health (DOH) regulates 2 PFAS chemicals in our public drinking water supply. PFOA and PFOS have drinking water standards or ‘Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs)’ which are set to 10 parts per trillion each for public water supplies. Learn more about thistesting of public water supplies here.

Expanded Testing on the Horizon
A bill was recently signed into law in New York State which will enact the most comprehensive drinking water testing and notification program in the nation for PFAS chemicals. This will result in thorough testing of water at public water utilities and notification letters informing customers of PFAS levels that exceed a certain level. This level, or notification level, is still to be determined by the NYS DOH. Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and other water advocates across the state urge the DOH to set the lowest notification levels for PFAS contamination in our drinking water, to protect the health of all New Yorkers.

Other resources

Being an environmental steward doesn’t mean you do everything perfectly. Don’t try to go zero waste overnight! It means you’re making an effort to reduce your footprint by taking practical steps in everyday life to create new habits.

Liz Cute

Community Engagement Manager