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Tests show concerning levels of contamination in drinking water sources in Seneca, Schuyler

Seneca Lake Guardian says residents in the Finger Lakes are being stonewalled on something important to their safety and health.

They made multiple attempts to learn whether PFAS’ were detected in drinking water sources surrounding the Seneca Army Depot, located in Romulus.

“After being stonewalled by the Department of Health on whether PFAS were detected in drinking water sources near the Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, Seneca Lake Guardian independently sent test kits to the University of Michigan Biological Station Lab from different locations, including the Montour Falls, Watkins Glen and Seneca County Municipal Water Supplies along with 3 private wells in Romulus,” Seneca Lake Guardian said in a press release.

They say results indicate elevated levels of PFAS compounds in each test sample.

Tests for 14 PFAS variants in Watkins Glen water registered a combined 21.0 parts per trillion, while tap water drawn from a Waterloo plant in Seneca County came in at 17.6 ppt, and water from Montour Falls registered 13.7 ppt. Water from private wells near the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus had combined PFAS readings of 20.0 ppt, 5.0 ppt and 4.1 ppt.

“We suspected that there was a concern, and when we didn’t get any answers from the Department of Health, we did our own independent testing,” said Mary Anne Kowalski, Research Director for Seneca Lake Guardian. “We felt the need to inform the public about our findings, and will be working with other organizations and elected officials to continue educating our community and urging safer standards along with clean up”, continued Kowalski.

PFAS are fluorinated organic chemicals. Two PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) were extensively produced and are the most studied and regulated of these chemicals. Several other PFAS that are similar to PFOS and PFOA exist. These PFAS are contained in some firefighting foams used to extinguish oil and gas fires. They have also been used in a number of industrial processes and to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials (e.g. non-stick cookware) that are resistant to water, grease and stains. Because these chemicals have been used in many consumer products, most people have been exposed to them.

Seneca Lake Guardian addressed the following questions in a release to the public, before calling on residents to ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to address the issue with transparency.

What health effects are associated with exposure to PFAS?

EPA’s 2016 Health Advisory values for PFOS and PFOA were based on studies of these substances in laboratory animals and were also informed by studies of exposed people. Overall, these studies indicate that exposure to sufficiently elevated levels of PFOA and PFOS, as well as other closely-related PFAS compounds, may cause developmental effects in fetuses during pregnancy and in breastfed infants. Effects on the thyroid, the liver, kidneys, hormone levels and the immune system have also been reported. Recent studies suggest a cancer risk may exist in people exposed to levels well below the EPA Health Advisory.

What are the recommended Limits for these contaminants?

In May 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a lifetime drinking water Health Advisory (HA) of 0.070 μg/L (70 parts per trillion or ppt) for any combination of PFOA and PFOS. New York State is proposing a 10 ppt limit each for PFOA and PFOS, but other states and advocates are urging even lower limits, such as 5ppt or 2ppt, which would include additional PFAS chemicals.

Residents can obtain test kits at a fee by clicking here.

Seneca Lake Guardian says their position on the PFAS contamination is a ‘great concern’ to the region; and that municipalities should do more.

“[We] feels that New York state’s current proposed standards won’t protect the public and that SLG’s test results demonstrate that proposed limits need to be lower, and more chemicals with similar compositions need to be included. Seneca Lake Guardian will be working with other organizations and elected officials to inform the public about the risks and work on lowering acceptable limits,” Seneca Lake Guardian said in a statement.

They called for the following steps to be taken:

1 – The Department of Health publicly share all test results on both public and private water supplies where testing has taken place thus far;

2 – DOH officials confirm that individual well-owners have been notified and advised about the contamination and risks;

3 – That New York State immediately promulgate state-level drinking water standards of no more than 2ppt for PFOA and PFOS, combined; and

4 – That the State also identify the sources of contamination and determine a cleanup plan for impacted areas.

In the meantime, Seneca Lake Guardian notes that boiling water will not destroy the chemicals, and that doing so could actually increase their levels due to evaporation.

“Sensitive subgroups, including pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants, can minimize their exposure by using bottled water that has been tested for PFAS for drinking, making infant formula and cooking of foods that absorb water or use a home water treatment system that is certified to remove PFAS by an independent testing group,” Seneca Lake Guardian concluded.


– Reporting by Josh Durso

Host of Inside the FLX and Sunday Conversation available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Tune-In, and Anchor. Send story ideas, questions, and comments to josh@fingerlakes1.com.

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