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State lawmakers introduce legislation to combat 'forever chemicals' in water sources

Karen Dewitt
WRVO News (file photo)

Clean water advocates are urging New York state to take aggressive action on so-called “forever chemicals" in water sources.

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are substances found in everyday products, like non-stick pans, GORE-TEX and popcorn bags. They are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment. So when they end up in landfills, contaminated water containing PFAS, called leachate, makes its way to drinking water sources.

Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of the Seneca Lake Guardian says Seneca Meadows landfill alone produces 75 million gallons of leachate every year.

"This untreated leachate gets hauled from Seneca Meadows to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, Stueben County and even Newark, New Jersey, where it ends up in drinking water sources,” said Taylor.

Also, in New York state there are no limits to how much of this substance can be dumped into the drinking water sources, and no way to find the source of the chemicals.

So a new piece of proposed state legislation would require testing at all facilities that discharge waters to determine the prevalence of PFAS. One of the bill’s sponsors, State Sen. Rachel May (D-Syracuse) said it’s a first step, and something that becomes more important as water resources become more scarce.

"People are going to be moving to New York state because we have water, while water is drying up around the world,” said May. “And if we don’t protect it and keep it pure and drinkable and usable, then we are failing in our jobs to people and other species in this state now and in the future."

According to the EPA, health impacts of PFAS range from decreased fertility, an increased risk of some cancers, and a reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.