Not A Drop Safe to Drink

More reports of PFOA contamination in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh

After recent proclamations issued by state officials ensuring Hoosick Falls residents that they have safe, clean drinking water, another source of contamination is raising concern over the validity of that claim. This time, the town of Petersburgh is exhibiting high levels of contamination.

The source of pollution is leakage in dumps, and poses a great threat to the health and safety of groundwater sources. This leakage is assumed to have occurred, leading many to second-guess the testing by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). In Hoosick Falls, tests confirmed by the DEC indicate 21,000 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOA, with 18,000 ppt in the groundwater at the former St.Gobain factory where the pollutant originated.  In Petersburgh, just south of Hoosick Falls, a bright brown liquid was reported to be leaking from a dump into a local stream, with levels of approximately 4,000 ppt of PFOA.

Despite these levels of PFOA being the highest ever recorded in the state, neither village have been deemed as a Superfund site; nor has the true source of the pollution been determined for Petersburgh. The DEC has yet to issue a warning for the village, so local authorities have issued their own warnings to residents stating that the waters are unsafe to swim in, and that any fish caught should be discarded. The DEC has failed to meet the request under the Freedom of Information Act in November 2015, the other St. Gobain site in Hoosick Falls has yet to be tested for PFOA, and the DEC has not released any new information to indicate that all the sources of PFOA have been found, in addition to the testing that will prove that private wells nearby are not currently or at risk of being contaminated.

As was the issue with Hoosick Falls, the water of those living near the now-closed dump in Petersburgh has not been tested for PFOA. Residents are concerned that their voices will go unheard, as they are members of a relatively small population of people.

Across the board, we have seen members from both parties join in demanding an increase in transparency and communication revolving around the increasing number of water quality cases occurring throughout the state. Finally, legislative hearings have been scheduled to address PFOA contamination in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh.

Until recently, lawmakers were pushing back, stating that there was no need to hold hearings, since the focus was on “looking forward, not back.”  That was not enough to satisfy the senate or the assembly. U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, joined by GOP Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin and Republican US Representative Chris Gibson, have all sought hearings – with state hearings being accelerated as the possibility of federal hearings on the issues of water quality in New York State was raised.

The dates of these public hearings are not set in stone, but will be held in Albany and Suffolk counties, with testimonies heard by Environmental Conservation Chair, Steve Englebright and Health Committee Chair, Richard Gottfried. A statement by Gottfried shows that lawmakers are open to hear the public’s opinion on water quality and what the issues are with water contamination and current policies in building better infrastructure to protect the public’s access to safe and clean water.

Given the severity of the PFOA pollution, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is holding a roundtable discussion to address the issue of water quality in Hoosick Falls. The purpose of the roundtable is to allow the Senator to hear from individuals how the PFOA contamination has impacted their lives. Proper mitigation of this issue, and the prevention of future incidents can hopefully be resolved through Sen. Marchione’s bill, S8624A to make it easier for residents to file lawsuits facing repercussions of the contamination.