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New York News

Cuomo Officials Grilled On Hoosick Falls Water Crisis

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  Governor Cuomo’s health commissioner faced an intense grilling from lawmakers at a joint hearing on how the administration handled water contamination in in the eastern New York village of Hoosick Falls.

Governor Cuomo’s administration has been accused of failing for 18 months to inform residents in Hoosick Falls that their water might be unsafe to drink, because of contamination with the toxic chemical PFOA. It’s used in Teflon manufacturing, among other uses, and linked to cancer.

Legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, intently questioned Health Department commissioner Howard Zucker and other Cuomo Administration officials to find out, essentially, what did they know about the PFOA contamination, and when did they know it?

Commissioner Zucker, testifying under oath, blamed the federal EPA for any mix up, saying they kept making “sudden” changes on their guidelines for safe levels of PFOA for human consumption, and the state health department struggled to keep up.

“There were inconsistencies,” Zucker said.

But Senator John DeFrancisco says the health department needs to explain an even bigger inconsistency. Why, he asked, did the department in December of 2015, distribute a fact sheet to village residents saying the water was safe to drink, after federal EPA administrator Judith Enck had warned residents in a town meeting not to drink the water. And after state health officials had already helped distribute bottled water and installed filtration systems.

“I can’t understand, for the life of me,” DeFrancisco said.

Zucker answered that one day after the EPA administrator issued her warning, the state health department acted.  

“The next day we complied with that,” Zucker said.

But, DeFrancisco asked, why then did DOH not change the fact sheet telling residents that said water is OK to drink?

"I don’t think there’s anybody that can read the English language that can confuse the determination by the health department that the water is not dangerous to people,” said DeFrancisco. “Is there any other interpretation?”

Zucker finally conceded the health department could have done better.

“That fact sheet probably could have been clearer for the public,” Zucker said.

Hundreds of residents in Hoosick Falls have been found , through tests conducted this year by the health department, to have very high levels of PFOA in their blood.

Dr. Zucker and other health department officials, in addition to blaming the EPA for any confusion, also pointed the finger at the polluter, Saint-Gobain, which was invited to testify but declined.  The company may be subpoenaed to appear at a later hearing. The health officials also cast doubt on village leader’s efforts, and even blamed landlords for not informing tenants about the potential safety of their water. That led Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, who represents Hoosick Falls, to, finally explode.

“There’s a nice game going on,” said McLaughlin, who said he and other legislators weren’t “buying it”.

“Meanwhile, DOH continues to say ‘we didn’t do anything wrong’,” McLaughlin said. “It’s distressing to hear that.”

While the hearings continued, the EPA declared Hoosick Falls a federal Superfund site. 

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