On May 13, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and New York State officials broke ground on a clean water infrastructure project at Plant 6 of the Hicksville Water District, located in Nassau County.  This groundbreaking step represents just the initial phase of a comprehensive effort to implement a $9 million treatment system to remove a number of hazardous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”), also known as “forever chemicals,” from Hicksville’s water supply, and secure clean drinking water for local residents. 

PFAS are used in food packaging and in products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water, such as nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing and some cosmetics, among many other industry and consumer products.  PFAS exposure has been linked to, inter alia, certain cancers, increases in cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, and immune system and development damage to infants and children.


The new treatment system is designed to comply with the EPA’s final rule issued in April which established a new, more onerous maximum contaminant level (“MCL”) for several PFAS known to occur individually and as mixes in drinking water.  MCLs are enforceable regulatory limits that set forth the highest level of a particular contaminant allowed in public drinking water, i.e. there is no known or expected risk to health at or below the level.

The rule sets forth the first-ever national, legally enforceable drinking water standard to protect communities from exposure to harmful PFAS.  In the past, the EPA issued health advisories for PFAS exposure but never established legally enforceable national drinking water regulations for them.  These health advisories provide information on contaminants that can cause adverse health outcomes and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water but are non-enforceable and non-regulatory.  The EPA previously established health advisory levels that drinking water contain no more than 70 parts per trillion (“ppt”) of PFAS chemicals.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”), which applies to every public water system in the United States, the EPA has authority to set enforceable National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for drinking water contaminants and require monitoring of public water supplies.  The EPA has exercised its authority under the SDWA and has set MCLs of 4 ppt for perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and 4 ppt for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (“PFOS”).  Public drinking water systems must comply with these new standards by 2029.  The EPA’s final rule represents data-driven drinking water standards that are based on the best available science and meet the requirements of the SDWA. 

Under these new federal standards, water utilities are required to notify the public and reduce contamination in the event the PFAS levels exceed the new MCL standard of 4 ppt.  PFAS reduction measures include implementing solutions to reduce PFAS in the drinking water within five years. 

Although the EPA’s Hicksville project is progress towards compliance with the new PFAS standards, most Long Island water providers have already implemented equipment designed to meet less stringent PFAS standards promulgated by the New York State Department of Health (“NYSDOH”) in 2020.  New York’s standards for emerging contaminants are among the most protective in the country, which set MCLs of 10 ppt for PFOA and PFOS, and 1 part per billion for 1,4-dioxane.  Until 2029, public water systems in New York must still meet these MCLs.

Despite New York’s continuing efforts to reduce, and eventually eliminate, PFAS exposure, compliance with the new EPA standards for other water districts on Long Island will prove to be a challenge until the State receives funding for additional projects.  NYSDOH, however, continues to review the health risks associated with drinking water contaminants and will update and develop additional drinking water standards as is required to protect public health.

Takeaway: The Hicksville project remains on schedule for completion in June 2025.  Its primary objective is to effectively lower PFAS levels in drinking water to meet the EPA’s more stringent standards.  Meanwhile, Long Island’s other water providers continue to be governed by and are expected to follow NYDOH’s 2020 guidelines to mitigate PFAS exposure.  As efforts persist to combat PFAS contamination, it underscores the ongoing commitment – both nationally and state-wide – to safeguard public health and ensure access to clean and safe drinking water for communities across New York. 

NOTE: The EPA has advised that New York State residents can continue to drink their water unless told otherwise by their public water system, or the local or state health department.

Resources (available on the NYSDOH website):