Jaffee Leads Major Environmental Safety Laws to Assembly Passage

May 4, 2011

Pearl River, NY – As part of a sweeping package of Earth Day-inspired legislation, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) this week led to Assembly passage two major environmental protection bills that will safeguard private well water quality and take toxic mercury product off the shelves.

“Environmental quality and public health go hand-in-hand, and ensuring safeguards for our environment is critical to safeguarding New Yorkers,” Jaffee said. “These bills take strong, direct action to help protect the very water we drink and the products we use.”

Jaffee’s “Private Well Testing Act” (A667), passed in the Assembly on Monday, mandates the testing of drinking water from private wells upon the sale or transfer of property, prior to the connection of a new well, and for multi-family rental properties. Currently, no such testing is required.

This legislation would require a comprehensive battery of tests, similar to those required for public water supplies. After passage of a similar law in New Jersey in 2001, it was discovered that one in four private drinking wells was contaminated above state drinking water standards.

As a Rockland County legislator, Assemblywoman Jaffee authored similar legislation, which was passed in 2005. Since its passage, 63-66% of wells in Rockland County tested either a primary or secondary failure. It is estimated that over 1 million homeowners in New York State currently use private wells for their drinking water.

“All too often contamination can be present and unnoticed for years, impacting the health of residents without their knowledge,” Jaffee added. “The well testing law is an important way of protecting the health of the public and the home buyer.”

Jaffee’s other bill which passed Monday (A668) is aimed at restricting the sale of mercury-added consumer products by closing a long-standing loophole that hampered state regulators from taking these toxins off the shelf.

Existing law gives the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) authority to ban mercury-added products when there are alternative non-mercury products of comparable effectiveness and price available. However, this authority has been difficult to exercise because it applies to whole categories of products; if even one item in a given category does not have a viable alternative, then all they other related mercury-added products could not be banned.

Jaffee’s legislation ends this regulatory shortcoming by giving the DEC greater authority and clearer guidelines to enforce its mission of banning mercury-added consumer products, in part through a new waiver system that can exempt certain items in a category of products in order to allow for a ban on others within that same category.

“Never should a loophole allow mercury to get into the hands of children, and with this legislation we are making sure it doesn’t,” Jaffee added.