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Rep. Gibson Asks House To Investigate State And Federal Response To Contamination Cases

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

With residents in the Town of Hoosick and Petersburgh still dealing with compromised drinking water due to the presence of PFOA, Representative Chris Gibson has sent a letter to House Committee on Oversight and Government Chairman Jason Chaffetz asking the committee to investigate the response of state and federal authorities.

The chemical contaminant, typically used in manufacturing non-stick and insulating materials, has been linked to Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in Hoosick Falls and Taconic in Petersburgh. A temporary filtration system has been installed on the Hoosick Falls village water supply, paid for by Saint-Gobain. Filtration systems are being placed on private wells in the Town of Hoosick. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced that Taconic would pay for a filtration system in Petersburgh.

State and local officials are continuing to search for new water sources for the communities.

But Gibson writes that many of his constituents remain “deeply concerned with potential ongoing health risks to their families, delayed and confused responses by the state and federal agencies involved, and lack of accountability to find out what happened and why it was allowed to go on after the initial detection of the contamination of their water supply.”

The confusion in Hoosick Falls dates back to when PFOA was first detected in the summer of 2014. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote a letter in November of 2015 urging local residents to not drink or cook with the contaminated water. A complicating issue is that PFOA was not listed as a hazardous substance in New York until January of this year, when Hoosick Falls was declared a state Superfund site.

Advisory levels for PFOA also differ across states. In Vermont, where investigations continue into PFOA contamination in communities like Bennington, the advisory level is at 20 ppt. The EPA recommended advisory level is 100 ppt.

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, who has been critical of the state’s perceived delayed response upon first discovery, has also called out the state agencies’ process of installing carbon filtration systems on private wells. 

“They began to install really, really quickly. The net result of that was, you may have heard that the first 200 or so systems were installed without carbon at all. So there’s no way to filter water without the carbon,” said McLaughlin.

In another example, state has also apologized for an instance where incorrect valves were installed by a contractor on the private filtration systems.

Gibson’s request for a Congressional investigation comes as calls for hearings by the state legislature have gone unanswered.

McLaughlin, who has been pushing for hearings in the Assembly, says his office is planning to organize public hearings if the Assembly and Senate refuse to do so.

“Now that may not need to happen if Congress schedules hearings; then my hearings may not need to happen. But if Congress decides not to hold hearings then we’re going to have to proceed and whatever shape it will take, it will take. I hope I can get people to show up,” said McLaughlin.

In Nassau, another Rensselaer County community, the EPA recently returned test results showing very low levels of PFOA in the Dewey Loeffel Landfill, a toxic waste Superfund site with a long history of issues.

The testing for PFOA was conducted after a request from town government.

Nassau Town Supervisor David Fleming was thankful the PFOA levels were well below advisory levels and grateful for EPA’s testing. But he agrees with Gibson’s call for increased scrutiny on how governments respond.

“The folks who really have the scientific assets available to them are EPA. And those are the folks who should recommending safe limits to all the states. And it shouldn’t be the states having to do all the work themselves. These are contaminants found throughout the country.”

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