On Tuesday, August 30th, the New York State Senate held the first of three hearings on the Hoosick Falls water pollution crisis. The hearings are intended to clear up confusion and explain in detail how Hoosick Falls’ water was contaminated, what efforts were made to clean up the hazards, and what the future holds.
The overall mood of the hearing went south rather quickly, largely in part to the lack of representation by the Environmental Protection Agency. Governor Cuomo and the administration tried to make the case that the EPA is at fault. The hearing, which lasted for nearly three hours, also involved testimony from State Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, and the Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner, Basil Seggos.
The problem of PFOA pollution by former industrial owner St. Gobain has been an on-going concern since early 2015. While the source of the pollution, St. Gobain has not fought back, and instead, has paid for a new water filtration system for the village, and provided bottled water to residents while the levels were still unsafe to drink. This is even after the village was declared a Superfund site. While they did not attend the hearing, a spokesperson from the company informed the public that they had submitted the necessary statements, including the working understanding that, “Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics remains fully committed to working closely with local, state and federal officials, with a shared focus on ensuring that the people of Hoosick Falls have drinking water that meets or exceeds current advisories set by E.P.A. and New York… And in the investigation of the source and/or sources that is just getting underway.”
Blame was initially pointed towards the Cuomo administration, which was quickly shifted to the EPA due to their lack of clarity, providing confusion on proper safety levels – both current and long term – they were under the impression that the water was safe, informing residents that they could begin using their municipal water supply again. This was not the case, however, after a water sample tested at 600 parts per trillion, versus the 400 parts per trillion safety level. Commissioner Zucker and Seggos have submitted a letter to the EPA requesting compensation for the mishandling of the Hoosick Falls testing, and response time, with Zucker stating that “We could use a little less confusion from the EPA.”
In an attempt to skirt the topic of the real issues at hand, Judith Enck, Administrator of EPA Region 2 stated that “The State DOH wasn’t confused, they just disagreed.” In addition to this, she provided information stating that NY State will not be able to recover the $25 million spent thus far in mitigating the Hoosick Falls crisis, as the Superfund Law will require the polluter to pay, not the EPA. This information, however, was not presented or provided for the hearing, but rather released to the Albany Times Union in a statement, when Enck should have been at the hearing.
In addition to the hearing, Senator Brad Hoylman issued a press release on Tuesday, August 29th, announcing water reform legislation that is aimed at preventing another Hoosick Falls crises to crop up in the future. Senator Hoylman states, “What happened in Hoosick Falls is a stark indication that the Legislature can and must do more to proactively address water safety in a comprehensive way.” Under this reform are two bills that will advance the current state of water legislation:
- Bill 1: This bill will require the New York State Department of Health to conduct reviews of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “contaminant candidate list” to ensure that known-contaminants, for example, PFOA’s remain on the list, and are more strictly monitored.
- Bill 2: This bill will require the Dept. of Health to create a central database of known areas where there are lead pipes, to pre-empt lead contamination in the water system.
This bill is a great example of being proactive for the future by preparing for any possible contamination or pollution before it starts.