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Cuomo: Hoosick Falls Water Filtration System Is PFOA-Free

Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

A temporary filtration system is up and running in the Rensselaer County village of Hoosick Falls. The community near the Vermont border has been grappling with the chemical PFOA in its public water supply. On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made a much anticipated visit to review the work done so far.

At a press conference Sunday morning at a Department of Environmental Conservation facility, Cuomo, surrounded by local and state officials, told reporters he was satisfied with the now-operating filtration system.

"The answer for today was the temporary filter is installed, they have done the testing, the water that comes out of the temporary filter — the Calgon filter — is what they call non-detect for PFOA.  So that is very, very good."

PFOA, a chemical used in making water-proofing and insulating materials. has been linked to various ill-health effects including some forms of cancer.

Joined by State Senator Kathy Marchione, Town of Hoosick Supervisor Mark Surdam, Hoosick Falls mayor David Borge, and others, the governor thanked all of those involved in bringing the village water system to this milestone.

Mayor Borge said he believed the people of the community are now "at the top of the mountain."

"A lot of things are happening here. The water is getting fixed. It's a very difficult situation. People are going through very, very hard times. Emotionally, it's very, very tough to deal with. But it is being fixed," said Borge.

There are plenty of next steps. Flushing will continue and village water customers are being asked to continue using bottled water for drinking and cooking until they're informed otherwise. State officials are still working to test private wells in the surrounding Town of Hoosick. Of 600 requests from homeowners, the governor said about half have been tested. Filtration systems are being installed on private wells free of charge.

With the filtration system operating and a permanent system scheduled for installation this fall, the governor reiterated his intention to find a new water source for the village.

"The long-term plan, ideally, is a new water source that doesn't have PFOA to begin with," said Cuomo.

The governor said under the Superfund program, the state would go after Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to pay for village residents' water bills until a permanent fix is in place. The company's facility on McCaffrey street is at the center of the water contamination question. Along with previous tenant Honeywell International, Saint-Gobain had used PTFE, a chemical compound containing PFOA.

Saint-Gobain and Honeywell, who are the targets of a federal class-action lawsuit filed by firm Weitz & Luxenburg, have pledged to work with state and local government. Saint-Gobain is footing the bill for the filtration systems and the bottled water being distributed.

Cuomo said he was standing with the governors of Vermont and New Hampshire, where PFOA has also been found in water sources. The three have written a letter asking the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a universal long-term exposure threshold for PFOA.

The federal government does not have an advisory level for long-term exposure to PFOA. The governor said there's been confusion over the PFOA short-term exposure thresholds that differ between states.

"EPA says 100. Vermont has 20. Which is it? 100 or is it 20 for long-term exposure? And we're saying in the letter with the Vermont governor we need clarification with that. And by the way, just pick it! You have the scientists, EPA. We want a national standard because this should not be a question for anyone," said Cuomo.

PFOA is considered an "emerging contaminant" and is one of 80,000 unregulated chemicals in New York. It was not classified as a hazardous substance in New York until January of this year. It was about 14 months between the initial discovery of the chemical in Hoosick Falls and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's advisory that residents refrain from drinking or cooking with contaminated water.

The Rensselaer County community of Petersburgh is also grappling with PFOA in its water system.

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