CAIRO — Residents packed Town Hall on Monday to learn more about the implications of PFAS in the municipality’s drinking water.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluroalkyl substances are a group of contaminants, including PFOA and PFOS, 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.
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.
PFOS were commonly used in firefighting foam. These foams were previously used at the Greene County Training Center, which is located on Mountain Avenue. The site is listed in a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Letitia James in November against 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.
Results of the town’s 2019 water quality report were released Tuesday, with PFOS levels of 8.37 parts per trillion before treatment and 8.51 after treatment. The water is treated with soda ash and chlorine, according to the report.
The report shows a slight decrease in levels from the 2018 report, where PFOS levels were at 13.3 ppt before treatment and 11.3 after treatment.
Delaware Engineering Project Leader William Bright discussed the findings with the board, and how the well the town has been planning to drill 35 yards away from the current well.
“We know it’s something we don’t want in our drinking water,” Bright said.
In the wake of Hoosick Falls, the state Department of Health has amped up its testing, Bright said.
“They are finding them wherever they look,” he said. “That we have what we have in the well next to the fire training center doesn’t surprise me.”
Councilman Jason Watts asked Bright if he would be comfortable drinking the water.
“I would put a carbon unit on my house and then I’d drink it,” Bright said. “Or a water softener.”
When it comes to treating the municipal drinking water at large, the town has four options, Bright said: granular activated carbon, ion exchange, microfiltration or reverse osmosis.
“This contaminant caught the drinking water industry off-guard,” Bright said.
The law is still playing catch-up.
“New York is like ground zero for this particular contaminant,” Bright said.
The EPA has a nonenforceable health advisory level of 70 ppt for PFAS, according to wqa.org.
“How is it OK if you don’t have a limit?” Bright said.
In July 2019, the state Department of Health proposed a legal limit for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water at 10 ppt each, according to court papers.
The chemical is bioaccummulative in nature, he said.
“It goes in and it doesn’t come out,” Bright said. “It stays in your body for five years.”
More testing is required, Bright said.
“Is it still in the ground at the fire station?” Bright said. “What does the law say about getting the dirt out so we don’t recontaminate it?”
The Department of Health has suggested the town test the levels quarterly, Town Supervisor John Coyne said.
“This has been posted on the town’s website for a year,” Coyne said, referring to the 2018 drinking water report. “This board is taking it seriously. We are going to try and correct this problem as quickly as possible.”
Several residents questioned the site selection for the new well, a little more than 100 feet from the existing well.
“It is the most productive site,” Bright said, adding that the plans were approved by the Department of Health.
Aside from finding additional wells, the town’s other options were to investigate hooking up to the village of Catskill’s water supply or treating its former reservoir, Bright said.
“Does this change things now that we have a PFOS issue?” Bright said. “It might.”
Ultimately the existing well does not have enough volume and the other wells that were explored were not suitable options, Bright said.
“You’re out of options,” he said.
The $300,000 project pales in comparison to what it would cost to drill a well alongside the Catskill Creek. Bright estimated that drilling the well would cost $2 million with an additional $300 per foot for the pipes to transport the water.
In a letter to residents and members of the water district, Coyne said the town will pursue other options, as well as funding opportunities in case treatment is needed.
“The town is also working with our water operators and engineers and the Department of Health to determine how the maximum containment level will impact our water district and what options the town has for addressing the removing PFOS from our water system,” according to the letter.
About 21% of all public water systems are estimated to have levels of PFOS or PFOA above the proposed 10 ppt, according to the Department of Health.
Annual maintenance costs for small systems serving less than 3,300 people are estimated at between $25,000 and $400,000; for medium systems serving 3,300-10,000 people the cost is an estimated $125,000 to $2.4 million; and for large systems above 10,000 people the cost is $725,000 to $15 million, according to the Department of Health.
The Department of Health is also proposing a deferral process for municipalities that are above the threshold.
If a public water system receives a violation, a deferral can be requested within 90 days. The deferral can be issued for up to two years, with the potential for a one-year extension based upon demonstrated need, according to the Department of Health.
Public comments on the proposed regulations will be accepted until March 9 and can be sent to REGSQNA@health.ny.gov or Katherine Ceroala, NYDOH, Bureau of Program Counsel, Regulatory Affairs Unit, Corning Tower Building, Rm. 2438, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY, 12237.