State Attorney General Letitia James last week filed one of the most important lawsuits of her administration in which she identified Cairo as one of several locations affected by PFAS.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluroalkyl substances are a family of contaminants that resist degradation and form potentially deadly conglomerates 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 substances.
“We do have it in our water, yes,” Cairo Town Supervisor John Coyne said last week. “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.”
Cairo’s public drinking water supply comes from a well at Angelo Canna Town Park, which is fed by groundwater, according to the town’s annual water report. The 2018 annual water report found that the town’s levels of PFOS were 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.
In the lawsuit, the state alleges that the company 3M knew or should have known about the risks of PFAS. 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, below the levels found in Cairo.
Both 3M and another company, DuPont, were ordered to pay hefty fines to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to disclose the health risks of their products. In April 2016, the state Department of Environmental Conservation designated both PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances.
If this is the case, then the state Health Department’s 10 parts per trillion regulation is helpful, yet it doesn’t go far enough, given that sensitive groups such as infants would benefit from a stricter rule. Cairo and the other communities named in James’ lawsuit should not have to worry about chemical contamination every time they turn on their taps.