Hoosick Falls, N.Y. residents hope water hearings will bring answers, accountability

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HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. >> While lawmakers and state officials are battling on the political stage, residents of this small village are waiting for accountability and answers.

Legislators grilled state health officials on Wednesday at the first of two joint Assembly and Senate hearings to probe the state response to PFOA contamination and statewide water quality. The next is slated for Monday on Long Island. A Senate hearing was held in the village on Aug. 30.

What's come out of the contentious hearings so far has left resident Michelle O'Leary feeling discouraged. While she said she wants officials to be held accountable, she called finger pointing between state environmental and health commissioners and the federal Environmental Protection Agency "counter productive."

"We feel like we don't have a lot of answers," O'Leary said.

Residents need a plan to help with future medical issues and a biomonitoring study to track their health, she said. She also wants to know when the village will get a new water source: She doesn't trust filters to remove PFOA from the tap water. She says she doesn't drink it and cringes even just washing her hands.

Robert Allen said he wasn't interested in politics until about a year ago. Allen, a music teacher at Hoosick Falls Central School District who lives in the village with his wife and children, says he's read hundreds of pages of news articles, research, and emails between public officials about the PFOA issue. Allen also created two videos about the water issue and posted them online.

Allen referred to emails released by records request that indicate health officials knew about PFOA in the water for months and talked-down health risks of PFOA.

"Out of all of the departments in the state that you wouldn't want that kind of culture," Allen said, "you'd think it would be the health department."

Residents were told not to drink village tap water in December because it contained elevated levels of PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, a man-made chemical formerly used to manufacture Teflon products.

EPA officials on Wednesday proposed adding a suspected source, a McCaffrey Street factory, to the federal Superfund program. The move would provide funds for a cleanup and gives the EPA legal authority to make polluters pay. That process could take years.

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics has owned the McCaffrey Street site since 1999. Both Saint-Gobain and Honeywell International agreed to consent orders with New York in June that require them to study and clean up contamination on four current and former factory sites.

Allen, in his latest video, tracks the timeline since PFOA was discovered in the municipal water system two years ago. The full nine-minute video, titled "PFOA, Hoosick Falls, NYS Department of Health's Failed Response, and What is Needed Next," is on Youtube: http://bit.ly/2cxnxnm. Allen said the video is meant to simply and quickly explain information about PFOA and related chemicals.

"At the same time, I wanted to point out and call into question the truth of what government, in particular the [Department of Health], has been doing and how they've been doing it," Allen said.

The video questions whether the state's blood tests for PFOA go far enough, and why Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn't visit the village until a Sunday in March of this year.

Allen said he was originally split on whether the hearings would be productive, but now thinks residents "are closer to having definitive answers and progress."

O'Leary said that many residents waited 12 hours to speak at Wednesday's hearings, but didn't get to speak.

"People who should be really giving input were once again ignored," she said.

O'Leary spearheaded the water delivery volunteer group "Water Angels" this winter. She said she encountered residents in February who hadn't heard about the no-drink order issued two months prior.

"It wears you down," O'Leary said. "But I don't want to give up on this issue because I've met so many amazing people."

The written testimony submitted to the Senate hearing on Aug. 30 is available online at: http://bit.ly/2cox2YL

Written testimony submitted to the joint Assembly and Senate hearing on Sept. 7 is online here: http://bit.ly/2c2UKfe

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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