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Hoosick Falls Residents Still Looking For Answers

Lucas Willard

WAMC's Ian Pickus speaks with Loreen Hackett, a Hoosick Falls resident.

Months after the state of New York began responding to high levels of a toxic chemical in water supplies in Hoosick Falls, several steps have been taken, including the installation of filtration systems on the village water supply and private wells. But the people of Hoosick Falls are still worried.

Inside the North Hoosick Fire House, it’s another meeting where local residents are looking for answers.

“How many people here had their blood tested?”

Recently, the New York State Department of Health began returning blood testing results for local residents affected by the PFOA contamination in the drinking water.

The meeting June 10th was organized by Weitz & Luxenberg, the firm that is building a class-action suit against companies Honeywell and Saint-Gobain, which operated in Hoosick Falls at the buildings that have been declared a state Superfund site.

Though Saint-Gobain stopped manufacturing with PFOA in 2003, the source and length of time the chemical has been in the groundwater is unknown.

Lynn Anson and her 10-year-old son Tyler recently received their PFOA blood tests from the state Health Department. 

“Mine was pretty high, 124. Not as high as some, but higher than others. My son’s is 44. He’s only 10 years old. So, it’s a really scary thing,” said Anson.

Anson’s levels are 10 times higher than the national average. Although much about PFOA, and its sister chemical PFOS, remains unknown, the perfluorinated chemicals have been linked to several health effects including various forms of cancers.

Anson, like many in town, believes more screening should be done.

“Something needs to be done now and the government should be paying for it. For all the testing. Not just blood tests. For the liver screening they have to do, kidney screenings, whatever. They should be taken care of by the government,” said Anson.

Weitz & Luxenberg attorney Robin Greenwald was providing tissues to several people sharing their stories. She said the days affect her as well.

“These days are super emotional for me. But they’re great because it’s the only way you can really learn. I’ve learned so much from the community, and so it’s important. It’s important but it’s hard. People, really, are rightly, super concerned. And we don’t have all the answers right now, which is really hard. I hope Department of Health steps up and gives some more answers for people,” said Greenwald.

Immediately following the sessions with the law firm, the same firehouse hosted a meeting of concerned citizens seeking more answers.

One of the organizers of the meeting is Michelle O’Leary, who moved to Hoosick Falls in September and began delivering bottled water to home-bound residents after news broke of the contamination in November. She says the chemical contaminant has, in a way, brought her closer to her community.

“It’s more personal now that I’m seeing people’s results come in because I’ve kind of built up communication between numerous people,” said O’Leary. 

O’Leary, along with friend Loreen Hackett, took to social media to bring more attention to the people behind the Hoosick Falls headlines.

The PFOA Project NY Facebook and Twitter pages feature photos of people holding their blood test results. In the few days since the launch of the pages, the groups have been featured in local and national news outlets.

“All of a sudden now it’s like every packed up and is gone. So we feel like we’re kind of being put on a back burner or swept aside, kind of like ‘out of sight, out of mind, maybe we’ll forget about it.’ And that’s not going to happen. So that’s why we needed to start taking a proactive and start doing something because we just feel forgotten,” said O’Leary.

Meanwhile, in nearby Petersburgh, which is also dealing with PFOA contamination, a new town supervisor was appointed. Town councilman Alan Webster was named interim town supervisor after former supersvisor Peter Schaaphok stepped down due to health reasons.

Webster says the decision to step into the new role was easy for him.

“This is not just about water, this is about the town operating smoothly in all facets. And we have good people in place. And in that sense it was very easy to step up and do that,” said Webster.

Investigations into the chemical in Vermont are also moving forward. Recently, high levels of PFOA were detected in North Pownal. The chemical has also been found in Pownal, Bennington and North Bennington, Pittsford, and the Vermont Air National Guard Base in South Burlington. PFOA and PFOS were also detected in Newburgh, New York.

The State Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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