HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — Federal environmental regulators have proposed designating a local manufacturing facility, a suspected source of PFOA contamination, as a Superfund cleanup site.
The addition of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics' McCaffrey Street plant to the national program would make federal funds available for a cleanup and give the Environmental Protection Agency power to recover costs from responsible parties, EPA officials say.
The proposal initiates a 60-day public comment period. EPA must still make a final determination before the site is added to the list of the country's most hazardous sites, or National Priorities List.
The federal Superfund is separate from New York's program of the same name. An EPA spokesman said the agency will sometimes coordinate with state programs on investigations, but the agency is not discussing coordination on Hoosick Falls.
U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement the community needs "all hands on deck" and said the designation would help residents of Hoosick and Hoosick Falls.
Saint-Gobain has made high-performance tapes, foams and membranes at the factory since 1999. A spokeswoman for Saint-Gobain said in a statement the company "will continue to work with local, state and federal officials as we have since first learning of the situation so that the residents of Hoosick Falls can continue to access clean drinking water."
Wednesday's news came while New York lawmakers grilled state officials about their response to water contamination in the village and nearby Rensselaer County communities. It was the first of two joint Senate and Assembly hearings; the second is slated for Sept. 12 on Long Island.
The state's Department of Environmental Conservation added village sites, including McCaffrey Street, to the state Superfund in January after elevated levels of PFOA, a man-made chemical formerly used to manufacture Teflon products, turned up in private and public water supplies. At the same time, officials asked the EPA to list McCaffrey Street "and other possible sources of contamination" in the federal Superfund.
DEC says Saint-Gobain and Honeywell International are the responsible parties. Both companies agreed to consent orders in June that require they study the full extent and submit clean-up plans for sites on McCaffrey, Liberty and Lyman streets, and River Road. Both companies have agreed to pay for bottled water and to install filtration systems on affected water supplies.
The EPA's Superfund process is complex and multi-phased. The agency will publish a notice in the Federal Register on Friday, proposing to add the Hoosick Falls site and seven others to the Superfund.
Eight companies voluntarily agreed in 2006 to EPA's nationwide phase-out of PFOA, a suspected carcinogen, by 2015. Officials have said they aren't sure how long PFOA has been in the groundwater, and that a full cleanup will take years.
The 14 McCaffrey St. site was built in 1961 for Dodge Fibers Corp. It was later owned by the Oak Materials Group and then AlliedSignal, which would later merge with Honeywell. It's been used to manufacture circuit board laminates, Teflon-coated fibreglass and other Teflon products.
Former employees described a powder-like smoke plume that was routinely discharged from the smokestacks and settled near the plant. Filters were installed in the early 1980s, but former employees said they were cleaned by washing them on a hillside outside the plant, according to EPA documentation.
The EPA in 2009 set a guideline of 400 parts per trillion (ppt) for short-term PFOA exposure. Tests done in 2015 found water from the village's municipal system had levels as high as 600 ppt. And tests on groundwater underneath Saint-Gobain's site found levels as high as 17,000 ppt.
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos criticized the EPA last week for issuing "conflicting guidance" and changing the limit: It set a 100 ppt level in January for the Hoosick-area and a national standard of 70 ppt in May. Both commissioners also demanded the EPA reimburse the state for costs that companies do not pay.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sent a letter the next day responding to the statements.
"If there was any confusion, it is difficult to understand why the state failed to seek clarification at the time," McCarthy wrote. "And it is extremely unfortunate the state chose not to advise EPA of its apparent decision to not follow EPA's advice."
Both the federal and state Superfund programs, though separate from each other, are grounded in a "polluter pays" principle, she wrote. "There is no legal basis for shifting those costs to EPA and it seems ill advised to ask federal taxpayers to bear these costs."
Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.