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Questions Answered As Feds Consider Contaminated Hoosick Falls For Superfund Status

Lucas Willard
EPA officials speak to Hoosick Falls residents

The toxic and persistent chemical PFOA has been discovered in water supplies in Petersburgh, New York, Bennington, Vermont, and other communities over the past year. As residents with contaminated drinking water in Hoosick Falls are still waiting for a permanent fix, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering the Rensselaer County village for Superfund status.

EPA’s Walter Mugdan spoke for two hours Monday night, answering questions and explaining to Hoosick Falls residents the ins and outs of the Federal Superfund program.

The village and surrounding area have groundwater tainted with the odorless, tasteless, and potentially cancer-causing chemical PFOA. The chemical used to make Teflon was used at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and previous companies in town.

In addition to PFOA affecting water supplies, Vinyl Chloride and 1,2-Dichloroethane were also found below EPA drinking water standards.

Mugdan, Director of EPA Region 2’s Emergency and Remedial Response Division, said the factory that has been linked to the area’s contamination crisis is being considered for the Superfund National Priorities List of the country’s most hazardous waste sites.

Mugdan said if put on the list, Hoosick Falls would join a group of 1,700 high-priority cleanups. 

“Of that, two-thirds have reached this construction-completion phase that I mentioned. Which means, everything we said had to be done at the entire site has been built, and if it needs to be running, it’s running,” said Mugdan.

Saint-Gobain’s McCaffrey Street facility is being targeted by EPA for the Superfund designation. It and a handful of other buildings were given Superfund status by New York state in January.

Michael Ryan, Assistant Division Director for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Environmental Remediation, said if the federal government joins in, it would give the state “additional options in the arsenal” for going after the polluter.

“So right now we’re working cooperatively with the potentially responsible parties towards the investigation and cleanup. Should there be any hesitation on their part, if the site is listed on the NPL, EPA will be there with their resources, their legal resources to help back us up,” said Ryan.

DEC has identified Saint-Gobain and Honeywell, a former tenant at the McCaffrey Street site, as potentially responsible parties. If EPA designates the site a Federal Superfund, the state would potentially share its research data with the federal government. But the research is still out on to how PFOA got into and spread through the environment.

DEC, along with the state Department of Health, is overseeing the installation of a permanent filtration system on the village water supply and hundreds of point-of-entry treatment systems on private wells.

The situation has been mired in political controversy with finger pointing between lawmakers and state agencies about what’s been perceived as a delayed response from state government.

A year since the contamination was widely announced to the public and more than two years since elevated PFOA levels were first detected, village Mayor David Borge said many unanswered questions were answered Monday night.

“How does it work? You’ve got two bureaucracies. How do they work together? Well, we were given a very detailed explanation with both of those entities present. So I think that only bodes well for the community as we move forward,” said Borge.

Under Federal Superfund status, residents would be eligible to receive advisement to form an independent Community Advisory Group and resources for an independent advisor for local government.

Both Borge and Hoosick Town Supervisor Mark Surdam said they were encouraged by the options.

Resident Rob Allen expressed concern over the potential Superfund designation. He mentioned the decades-stalled cleanup of the Dewey Loeffel Landfill in the Rensselaer County town of Nassau, which became a Federal Superfund in 2010, and the Hopewell Precision site in Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County, where a Superfund was declared over a decade ago.

“But just in the past I want to say month, things have actually started to move. So you have a community that’s been over a decade trying to advocate, trying to push for things, trying to get things to happen, and I just want to make sure that doesn’t happen here,” said Allen.

Mugdan said EPA has taken notice of the vocal residents of Hoosick Falls as the situation has generated national headlines.

“The only question is, ‘Is it of sufficient concern and is it a high enough priority to be put on the list,’ and here the answer was a resounding yes,” said Mugdan.

A 60-day comment period on the proposal to add Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to the Superfund National Priorities List closes November 8th.

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