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New York legislators are renewing calls to stop the use of PFAS in everyday products

Democratic New York Assemblymember Deborah Glick gathering with advocates at the New York state Capitol Tuesday to renew calls for legislation to control harmful PFAS chemicals
Samantha Simmons
Democratic New York Assemblymember Deborah Glick gathering with advocates at the New York state Capitol Tuesday to renew calls for legislation to control harmful PFAS chemicals

Lawmakers and advocates gathered at the New York state Capitol Tuesday to renew calls for legislation to control harmful PFAS chemicals.

“You cannot avoid it. Our only hope is for future generations for us today to take the necessary steps to eliminate any production. And the continued production, the cleaning out of our water systems, and to prevent any future use of these forever chemicals,”

Democratic Assemblymember Deborah Glick from the 66th District chairs the Committee on Environmental Conservation. Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are resistant to breakdown, leading to accumulation in the environment. Glick, of Manhattan, called on manufacturers using materials containing PFAS to be “responsible corporate citizens” and pay for the cleanup.

The chemicals have turned up in the water supply in a number of Northeast communities in recent years and are found in household items like nonstick pans.

The group says a package of bills could eliminate PFAS in household products, personal care items, and menstrual products. It would also track the chemicals linked to ill health effects, including cancer, in sewage discharge.

Democratic Assemblymember Chris Burdick of the 93rd District in Westchester County says manufacturers need to be held accountable.

“Why is it necessary for us to pass laws to tell them to be responsible citizens of this state?” Burdick said. “They should be doing this voluntarily.”

Of the more than 2,500 public water systems that have been tested in New York, roughly 250 systems have excess amounts of PFOA and PFOS contamination, according to the state Department of Health. It’s estimated that about half of the public water systems in the country have some level of PFAS contamination.

Rockland County Assemblymember Kenneth Zebrowski of the 96th District sponsors a bill aiming to ban the sale of products containing PFAS. The Democrat calls the continued use of the chemical a “vicious cycle.”

“Are we going to continue to allow products to be produced with this, that then go into landfills or thrown out or discharges into our wastewater systems and end up in our water supply?” Zebrowski said.

PFAS contamination has been found in several New York communities including Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, and Newburgh, as well as Bennington, Vermont.

In 2015, the Department of Environmental Conservation found historic use of firefighting foam at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh led to the contamination of Lake Washington and its tributaries.

A water treatment system has since been installed and the city’s water supply system is drawing from a piped connection between the Catskill Aqueduct and the city’s pump station. Jennifer Rawlison, a Newburgh Clean Water Project member and impacted resident, says she’s hopeful the bills will move forward so communities can begin to heal.

“Whether it's turning on the faucet or making a trip to the store for needed household or women's hygiene products, New Yorkers should be able to do so without fear of exposing themselves or loved ones to harmful toxic chemicals,” Rawlison said.

Assemblymember Anna Kelles of the 125th District in Tompkins and Cortland Counties, who sits on the Committee on Environmental Conservation, says the chemicals pose an ecological threat.

“This is literally about the preservation of human habitat, because we know that this negatively affects species diversity,” Kelles said. “So that is how far reaching all of these are that we are talking about.”

The American Chemistry Council says restricting PFAS use could hurt the economy and limit access to products people rely on. In a statement, the council says that PFAS chemistries cannot be broadly grouped together for regulation, adding some PFAS chemicals meet “internationally recognized safety criteria.”

Samantha joined the WAMC staff after interning during her final semester at the University at Albany. A Troy native, she looks forward to covering what matters most to those in her community. Aside from working, Samantha enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and cat. She can be reached by phone at (518)-465-5233 Ext. 211 or by email at ssimmons@wamc.org.