Senate Dems demand hearing on Hoosick Falls water crisis



Senate Democrats are calling on Republican Conference Leader John Flanagan to call a hearing on the ongoing Hoosick Falls water crisis.

A letter signed by Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Sen. Brad Hoylman, the ranking member of the Environmental Conservation Committee, calls for a hearing as soon as possible to help families in the Rensselaer County town of Hoosick Falls get answers about their water supply.

A legislative hearing had originally been called this past April by the Assembly but those were cancelled after the state began offering filtration systems and testing residents and the water for evidence of perfluorooctanoic acid, a known carcinogen in animals.

But Senate Democrats say it is time for the Legislature to get involved.

“There is an alarming lack of reliable information from the Legislature regarding the water contamination crisis in the town of Hoosick Falls, New York,” state the letter by Stewart-Cousins and Hoylman. “As you know, hundreds of residents of Hoosick Falls have been found to have high levels of (PFOA) in their blood, a chemical linked to cancer and other illnesses. It is extremely troubling that these residents were exposed to PFOA through their town’s water supply, which they had assumed was clean and safe.

Hoosick Falls is a village of 3,500 near the New York-Vermont border that made news beginning last November when residents began contacting the EPA and news agencies about their concerns of unsafe drinking water.

In 2013 a local resident died of kidney cancer, which prompted his son to get Hoosick Falls’ water supply privately tested for contaminants.  When the results came back positive for PFOA — used to manufacture Teflon, among other commercial applications — they began a dialogue with the government agencies about the contamination.

In November 2015, after some more testing, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Hoosick Falls’ water supply unsuitable to drink or cook with.  The EPA’s regulations state that any water containing PFOA levels over 70 parts per trillion is unsafe. Some sites tested in the town had contamination levels of 18,000 parts per trillion. That is over 250 times higher than the acceptable level.

The contamination is believed to have originated at the Saint Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell plants. PFOA or Perfluorooctanoic acid is a chemical that was used in many facets of industry until it was voluntarily phased out of production by 2015. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has found Honeywell and Saint-Gobain to be mutually responsible for the contamination, as they both used in it various manufacturing processes.

Overexposure to PFOA has been linked to certain cancers, and it’s most notorious for the effects it has on fetuses and nursing infants. In a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, PFOA was found in the blood serum of 99 percent of the people they tested, but it is thought to be harmless in small amounts.

Earlier this year, the state began installing filters for the municipal water supply, while in the meantime Honeywell and Saint-Gobain were held financially responsible for purchasing bottled water for all Hoosick falls residents.

“These residents justifiably have many questions regarding the depth of the water contamination crisis in Hoosick Falls and the health implications from exposure to PFOA,” states the letter from the Senate Democratic Conference. “We believe it is the state Senate’s responsibility to conduct a legislative fact-finding hearing in a timely fashion to help provide answers. Unfortunately, no legislative hearings have yet been scheduled. We urge the State Senate to remedy this unacceptable situation and convene a hearing as soon as practicable to help provide these New Yorkers with the information they deserve about the safety of their water supply’ and health of their families.”

Meanwhile, a bill passed at the end of session would give victims exposed to dangerous chemicals or other substances three years to file personal injury lawsuits once a site has been declared a state or federal Superfund site.

Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, chair of the Senate’s Local Government Committee, sponsored the bill (S.6824-a) which she says will help Hoosick Falls families. Passed by a vote of 62-0 in the Senate with strong bi-partisan support, the bill would allow individuals who have been sickened by exposure to toxic chemicals to bring a personal injury suit within three years of the time an area linked to such contamination is designated as a Superfund site.

Under current state law, the three year statute of limitations in which to bring such exposure cases may have already run before it is ever known that illnesses may be linked to chemical contamination. Senator Marchione’s bill effectively gives Hoosick Falls’ families more time to fully explore their legal options against the polluter and also pursue civil justice.

The Assembly bill, A.9568-a, is sponsored by John McDonald, D-Cohoes, and passed 132-7.

“Passage of my bill was an important victory for Hoosick Falls’ families who, because of this legislation, now will have more time to explore and actively seek civil justice,” Marchione said. There shouldn’t be a time limit on justice for families who were exposed to contaminated water. This bill is a real solution that will make a real difference for Hoosick Falls and I’m thankful that we got it done.”

The bill was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for consideration.