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Superfund Site Declared For Hoosick Falls

Lucas Willard

UPDATED 1/28/2016: In a village faced with a water contamination issue, the Saint-Gobain facility in the Rensselaer County community of Hoosick Falls has been declared a New York State Superfund site after weeks of worry.

State and local officials joined state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos at the state capitol to announce the Superfund status.

Residents have already been warned by the Environmental Protection Agency not to drink or cook with the village’s water amid concerns over health effects.

Seggos said the state will explore how to pull the chemical PFOA out of the village water system.

“For whatever reason, it’s a newer chemical. It’s not well understood. It’s not one of the listed chemicals currently in New York state. By signing the authorization today, I’m going to make it a chemical that we can actually address with Superfund.”

In addition to PFOA being classified as a Hazardous Substance, a risk analysis will be conducted to establish a PFOA drinking guidance level.  The PFOA levels in the village water system were found well above the 400 parts per trillion threshold set by EPA.

Until now, the state health department has not had an enforceable drinking water standard for PFOA below 50,000 ppt because there had not been a health-based standard regarding the chemical’s toxicity.

Health Commissioner Zucker said the state will set a new level for the chemical.

“We are trying to be and we will be more aggressive bringing the level down further from 400.”

Zucker said the state health department has not noticed any ill health effects due to the contamination.

“However, let me also add, we as a department will continue to look at any of the risks associated that people may be exposed to this, and that involves any of the long-term effects of cancer. “

In addition to the risk assessment, private wells in the village will be retested and filtration systems will be installed in schools and community sites. Blood testing of community members is scheduled to begin next month. A state hotline will also be established. Those with concerns can call 1-800-801-8092.

Local officials including State Sen. Kathy Marchione, Hoosick Falls schools superintendent Kenneth Facin, Hoosick town supervisor Mark Surdam, and village Mayor David Borge met with Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of his administration on Wednesday prior to the Superfund announcement. 

Some in town had criticized the village and state health department of not acting aggressively enough in examining the issue. The contamination was initially discovered after local resident Michael Hickey purchased his own testing kit in the summer of 2014. The state health department took its samples a year later. A group called Hoosick Healthy Water was established in the interim to press state and local officials.

Borge addressed the community’s fears.

“The fear that people have had, the concern, it’s all genuine. Genuine. Now we have something concrete that we can go forward with and show people that steps are being taken. And we know for sure that we can resolve this,” said Borge.

A temporary water filtration system on the village water supply is set to be installed by next month. A permanent filtration system is set for installation in October. Those systems are paid for by Saint-Gobain, whose buildings in town are at the center of the contamination question.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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