CAIRO — A lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General’s Office recently identifies Cairo as one of several locations affected by PFAS.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluroalkyl substances are a group of contaminants that resist degradation and accumulate in the human body. PFAS have been linked to serious illnesses such as kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, preeclampsia and other conditions, according to ag.ny.gov.
PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX and many other chemicals.
In November, the Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against several companies that used PFAS in their aqueous film-forming foam (AFF) and related products, which are commonly used in firefighting.
The companies named as defendants in the lawsuit are 3M Company, Tyco Fire Products LP, Chemguard Inc., Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, National Foam Inc., Kiddie-Fenwal Inc., Amerex Corporation, Fire Service Plus Inc., E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Company and the Chemours Company.
The Greene County Training Center in Cairo was among the sites sampled for PFAS, according to court papers. The study found 13.3 parts per trillion of PFAS in drinking water at the site.
Cairo’s public drinking water is supplied by a well at Angelo Canna Town Park, which is fed by groundwater, according to the town’s annual water report. The training center is located on Mountain Avenue.
The 2018 annual water report found that the town’s levels of PFOS was 13.3 parts per trillion and after treatment, it was 11.3 parts per trillion. The water is treated with soda ash and chlorine, according to the report.
The EPA has a nonenforceable health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for PFAS, according to wqa.org.
“We do have it in our water, yes,” Town Supervisor John Coyne said. “Is it within state guidelines, yes. We test it daily and monthly. If it spikes to an alarming level, it is the town’s responsibility to make citizens aware we did have a spike.”
In July 2019, the state Department of Health proposed to set the legal limit for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water at 10 parts per trillion each, according to court papers.
If the new regulation is implemented, Cairo would be mandated to take the necessary steps to remedy the problem, Coyne said.
Local environmental watchdog Riverkeeper advocated for a combined limit of PFOA and PFOS at 2 parts per trillion, Water Quality Program Director Dan Shapley said.
“We felt they should have gone even further,” he said, adding that he believed particularly sensitive groups, such as infants, would benefit from a stricter regulation.
Municipalities can apply for state grants to mitigate the contamination if the levels are above the threshold, Shapley said.
PFAS samples were also taken at Damascus Road Landfill in East Quogue, Sullivan County Airport in Swan Lake, Dutchess County Fire Training Center in Hyde Park, Gotham Ink Corporation in Stony Point, Saint Lawrence Fire Training Center in Potsdam, the former IBM Semiconductor Facility in East Fishkill, the IBM Facility in Poughkeepsie, Nepera-Harriman in Harriman, Cascades Containerboard Packaging/Frontier Chemical in Niagara Falls, Xerox Facility in Webster, East Hampton Airport in Wainscott, Harmon Railroad Yard in Croton-on-Hudson, Poultney Street in Whitehall, Wyoming County Fire Training Center in Wethersfield, GE Powerex in Auburn, Sherwood Shoe in Rochester and Oswego County Airport in Fulton.
PFAS dissolve in water and spread readily throughout the environment, leaching into groundwater and drinking water, according to court documents.
PFAS can also spread, and bioaccumulate, by passing from a mother to a fetus through the placenta, or to an infant from breast milk, according to court papers.
In the lawsuit, the state alleges that 3M knew or should have known about the risks of PFAS.
“In 1975, 3M concluded that PFOS was present in the blood of the general population,” according to court papers. “Since PFOA/S is not naturally occurring, this finding should have alerted 3M to the possibility that their products were a source of this PFOS. The finding should have also alerted 3M to the possibility that PFOS might be mobile, persistent, bioaccumulative and biomagnifying, as those characteristics could explain the absorption of PFOS in blood from 3M’S products.”
In 1976, 3M found the contaminant in the blood of its employees, according to court papers.
In 1978, a study conducted by 3M showed that PFOA reduced the survival rate of fathead minnow fish eggs, according to court papers.
“Other studies by 3M in 1978 showed that PFOS and PFOA are toxic to rats and that PFOS is toxic to monkeys,” according to court papers. “In one study in 1978, all monkeys died within the first few days of being given food contaminated with PFOS.”
In 1983, 3M found that PFOS caused cancerous tumors in rats, according to court papers.
Both 3M and DuPont paid fines to the EPA for failing to disclose the health risks of their products, for $1.5 million and $10.25 million, respectively, according to court papers. In April 2016, the state Department of Environmental Conservation designated both PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances.
Former Regional EPA Administrator Judith Enck expressed concern over the news Friday.
“It is a serious concern and all water users should be informed,” Enck said. “Carbon filtration should be installed and the DEC should rapidly investigate the source of the pollution and get it cleaned up.”