By Mary T. Finneran
First let me thank The Daily Mail for the timely, comprehensive articles and editorial regarding the PFOS in Cairo’s water; the concern for the community is heartening to this Cairo resident.
Secondly, I want to be very clear that, although the PFOS in Cairo’s water is a result of one type of fire-fighting foam being used for training at the Greene County Firefighting training facility (discontinued for several years now), no blame should be cast onto the heroic volunteer firefighters nor those working for Emergency Services. Concern for their good health is foremost in my mind and I hope they were well-protected from this insidious toxin used in the trainings.
This is not an undue concern as one volunteer fireman told me his company alone, of many in the county, used to train with the foam at least once a year, most often at the training facility. One would think this might have been common for many firefighters in the possible four decades the foam was used at the facility for training. That’s a lot of PFOS very close to the Shinglekill which feeds our well in Angelo Canna Park.
Please allow me to clarify some points made in the Daily Mail: while the report of 13.3 parts per trillion (ppt) before treatment and 11.3 ppt after treatment was in the 2018 water quality report (WQR) as correctly stated in the paper, the actual sample was taken in the fall of 2016 two years before the 2018 WQR. And the most recent 8.37 ppt before treatment and 8.51 ppt after treatment (note the treatment number is higher?) was taken in fall of 2017, again two years before the 2019 WQR.
Upon calling the NYS Department of Health (DOH) today an official was stymied as to why the data should have taken so long to get into the WQR. He suggested a month or two should have been more than enough time for the town to have received the information. A mystery of some concern as notification three years ago may have allowed people to mitigate their own personal water consumption as PFAS (known as forever chemicals) are bio- accumulative, meaning they build up in the body. These delays resulted in three years of unnecessary accumulation, including at Cairo Elementary School where thirsty active kids drink a lot of water.
The bio accumulation brings me to another clarification to the Daily Mail information. In the article it was mentioned that the substance stays in the body for five years. In truth five years is the average half life for PFAS in the body, which means it takes five years for half of the substance to be eliminated, (three quarters would be gone in about 8 years, seven eighths in about 10 years and so on). Of course this can only happen if there is NO further contamination, any contamination delays the elimination and any amount is bad.
Which brings about yet another point of serious concern. 8.5ppt might be below the maximum containment level (MCL) of 10ppt expected to be set by the DOH this spring, but it is still far too high, especially for those hoping to not bio-accumulate any further amount. So we hope, as the Daily Mail makes clear, that the town will still work to filter out this toxin and find a well not in the same contamination area as the current well.
Although some might say the difference between 13.3 and 8.5ppt is very significant, and the town seemed elated that the numbers seem to be dropping; according to water experts I spoke to at a drinking water quality conference in Albany Tuesday, the apparent drop between just two samples does NOT necessarily mean that the next sample will also be a drop. The next sample could actually be higher than any; I was told numerous factors can make readings vary and when talking about trillions in droplets of water we need a lot more samples to be sure.
Which makes me very glad to know that the town will be taking quarterly samples; I just have to hope these samples will be taken from wells not in the same vicinity, and that the reports from the samples won’t take two years to get to the Water Quality Reports. Thank you.
Mary T. Finneran is a resident of Cairo.