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Class Action Suit In Hoosick Falls As Water Fears Spread Nearby

The Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility on McCaffrey Street in Hoosick Falls
Lucas Willard
Saint-Gobain's plant in Hoosick Falls

An environmental law firm has filed a class-action suit against two companies connected with the water contamination in the Rensselaer County village of Hoosick Falls. Meanwhile, neighboring communities are discovering the presence of the same chemical.

Since December, residents of Hoosick Falls have been instructed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to avoid drinking or cooking with contaminated tap water.

Now, after declaring the site a Superfund, state officials are investigating the McCaffrey Street facility now occupied by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. The industrial materials manufacturing facility previously was used by Honeywell International. Both companies used a chemical compound called PTFE, which contains PFOA, the chemical found in the village water supply and some private wells in the Town of Hoosick.

Environmental law firm Weitz & Luxenburg announced a class-action suit against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell Wednesday.

Robin Greenwald is head of the firm’s Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit…

“It is their activities that caused the PFOA to get into the environment. And it was their decision, their bad decision, that ended up causing the drinking water supply in Hoosick Falls to be contaminated.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of residents on the village water system and owners of private wells, accused Saint-Gobain and Honeywell of creating a “public health crisis.” Weitz & Luxenburg cites health complaints among local residents.

Chronic PFOA exposure is believed to lead to ill health effects including thyroid disease and various forms of cancer.

The companies responded to the lawsuit via email.

In a statement, Saint-Gobain said the company “respect[s] the right of individuals to pursue their claims in a court of law” and that the company will continue to investigate the source of the contamination. Saint-Gobain is paying for a filtration system for the village water supply.

A temporary filtration system began operating this week, but the village is still warning residents to continue using bottled water until further notice. A permanent filtration system for the municipal water supply is targeted for completion this fall.

Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office pledged to provide residents of the Town of Hoosick and the Village of Hoosick Falls with a new water supply.

Honeywell says it is reviewing the lawsuit, and mentioned a letter sent to New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker earlier this month offering its “assistance to complement the testing being offered by agencies and the work done by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics.”

Honeywell says it is also reviewing the operations of another previous tenant of the McCaffrey Street building, AlliedSignal Laminated Systems. Honeywell claims AllidedSignal may have also used a compound containing PFOA. Honeywell also points out that state regulations did not previously require testing for PFOA.

In fact, it wasn’t until after EPA came to town in January that state health and environmental officials classified the chemical as a hazardous substance.

Greenwald said it’s very possible that other companies will be considered in the lawsuit.

“And that’s what we’ll learn during the course of the discovery in these cases; whether other parties should be added.”

Weitz & Luxenburg, which is working with famed environmental advocate Erin Brockovich, says it also will expand its inquiry to neighboring Petersburgh, New York.

There, local officials are eagerly awaiting the return of further testing, after PFOA was detected in a well used by the town water district.

Town Supervisor Peter Schaaphok said the results from a test by the state Department of Health showed PFOA levels at 95 parts per trillion, just shy of the state’s 100 ppt threshold.

“It’s borderline whether we were going to require something or not. And my suspicion is that we are going to require some remedial action and I’m hoping that the state is here to support us on that,” said Schaaphok.

The town is home to Taconic, an industrial products manufacturer that also uses the compound PTFE.

In a statement, Taconic said it “is in the process of conducting a site evaluation and has asked NYSDEC and NYSDOH for their guidance.” Meanwhile, the company is distributing bottled water to the 74 customers served by the municipal water supply.

Just over the state line from the Town of Hoosick, the public water supply for North Bennington, Vermont has also tested positive for PFOA. In Vermont, the standard level for the chemical is 20 ppt.

According to Governor Peter Shumlin’s office, levels above the threshold were found in a wastewater treatment plant well, a local business’ well, and three residential wells. One home tested showed levels at 2,880 ppt.

Public meetings to discuss the contamination are scheduled on Friday at the North Bennington Firehouse, and Monday during the Bennington Town Meeting Day.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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