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NYS Senate Holds First Water Hearing In Hoosick Falls

Republican State Senator Kathy Marchione presided over the marathon 10-hour session at Hoosick Falls Central School.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

A long-awaited New York state Senate hearing on the fallout from PFOA-contaminated water was held Tuesday in Hoosick Falls. Officials and angry residents took to the microphone.

Republican State Senator Kathy Marchione presided over the marathon 10-hour session at Hoosick Falls Central School.

For decades, Hoosick Falls was home to several factories that used PFOA in manufacturing Teflon products. Over time, the substance fouled groundwater, contaminating the municipal drinking supply and private wells, leading up December 2015, when the EPA warned residents not to drink the water. The chemicals are suspected carcinogens.

State and local officials were joined by residents who voiced their concerns to a panel of senators.

In 2014, resident Michael Hickey was searching the internet for answers after his father, who worked more than three decades in a Teflon factory, succumbed to cancer.  "I started to do a random Google search. And all I typed in was "Teflon" and "cancer" because that's what was in the factory that was in Hoosick Falls that my father worked at. And it really took actually about five minutes to find it. And the thing with that was that it was hard for me because my dad had kidney cancer, and the first thing that shows up on the C8 science channel is kidney cancer. "

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker at Hoosick Falls PFOA hearing, August 30, 2016

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker defended the administration’s actions. "And in line with  a 2009 EPA advisory, our efforts helped the village confirm in November 2014, that some PFOA levels in the municipal water supple exceeded EPA guidance levels, and established a plan of attack for removing the contaminants from the water supply."

Attorney Robert Bilott , dubbed by the New York Times "The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare," testified PFOA is a dangerous "bio-persistent material" and regulation could have begun decades earlier.  "Part of this process EPA started in 2003. They identified what they call 'data needs,' and at that point EPA had looked at some of the blood data — by then it was already known this chemical was in human blood supplies all over the country if not all over the world. There is no background level. It is a non-naturally occuring chemical. It is man-made. There was none of this in anybody's blood prior to the 1950s."

Sroll to the bottom of this article to hear Bilott's full testimony. I spoke with him later in the day. He told me he " felt it was important to be here and make sure that the people in this community and the state that's struggling with these issues, has access to as much information as they can possibly have about what's already known about these chemicals. The information's already available, you don't have to re-invent the wheel and do a lot of additional studies."

There were no officials representing either the federal Environmental Protection Agency or any of the companies associated with PFOA at the hearing.

Throughout the day and into the night, one after another, residents shared their stories.

"Although the six-month water rebate was something, but what about the other 12 months we paid to be posioned?"

"I'm distraught because I have a lot of empathy for the people who spoke. I worry a great deal about my father."

"I lost my father, uncle, aunt and mother all within the last two years and all to cancer."

"I mean, come on, we're not a third world country. We're supposed to be the leaders, the educators, the (sigh) it's just so disappointed. I lived in this little perfect bubble where I thought that we lived in the greatest country, and... I don't see it anymore."

"I will not drink the water. I don't care if it's changed. I don't trust it."

At the end of the session, Marchione summed up the day.  "We should have a policy in place that we can move forward when this type of a crisis occurs. Waiting 18 months to be able to have some resolve is a long time. And so I think what we hope to get out of these meetings is how do we go forward? What happened? How can we do better? How can we help the people who are here but... What kind of a policy do we put in place so that the next time that this occurs, what can we do? How do we do it so we do it better, we do it faster..."

The next hearing is set for September 7th; the Senate and Assembly conducting a joint listening session in Albany on water quality issues.   "I think there'll be a report at the end of the third hearing. I know that we'll be drafting a report. I've said from the beginning, after hearings, I really think there should be a task force where all levels of government get together and a policy is created on how we work better together, from the EPA, and I know we can't mandate them to come, and hopefully they'll have more responsibility if we have a task force than they did today. But to have everyone come together and sit at the table and create a policy... what happens when we find ourselves like this? And I think that's critically important. I think it's one of the most important things that we can do."

The final hearing will be September 12th on Long Island.

Attorney Robert Bilott Full Testimony August 30, 2016 Hoosick Falls NY

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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