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Efforts Begun To Improve Communication In Hoosick Area

An EPA official meets with Hoosick Falls residents Tuesday.
Lucas Willard
An EPA official meets with Hoosick Falls residents Tuesday.

State and federal agencies met with the residents of Hoosick Falls Tuesday night, where an investigation into the presence of toxic chemicals in local water supplies continues. Officials hope to foster better communication between the people and government.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently completed what’s called a Technical Assistance Needs Assessment for the Hoosick Falls area.

The town of Hoosick and the village of Hoosick Falls in Rensselaer County have been dealing with the presence of the chemical PFOA in groundwater. The Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility on McCaffrey Street is classified as a federal Superfund.

The so-called TANA process involves input from local residents and stakeholders.

Larissa Romanowski is an EPA spokeswoman...

“Essentially the TANA was an opportunity for us to hear from the community to really get a better understanding of people’s perspectives and what kind of information they feel that they need, and how they want to be kept informed so they can more fully participate in the Superfund discussion,” said Romanowski.

The TANA report made several recommendations, the first of which was to provide support for a community-based discussion group.

To facilitate discussion, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is the lead agency in the PFOA investigation, has proposed what it’s calling the Hoosick Area Community Participation Work Group.

Sean Mahar is a spokesman for DEC…

“You’re talking about 3,500 people that live in the Hoosick area here, and there are obviously a lot of people, and what we learned from the TANA is they have a lot of needs for information,” said Mahar. “So our goals for this community group is to figure out what they need to hear about and we can tailor that information in the best way to get it out.”

DEC will work in concert with the New York State Department of Health on the working group.

The group would gather input, work closely with government agencies, and allow residents to learn more about the technical side of the ongoing investigation.

Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen said residents have questions on a variety of topics – health effects, remediation efforts, investigations, etc. He’s looking forward to the working group.

“The sooner it comes, the better,” said Allen.

Officials at the village board meeting discussed a new one-stop shop website for all state information on the pollution investigation. Currently, information on the PFOA-issue may be scattered across different state websites.

The TANA report recommends a “centralized online forum” for people to find technical information.

Gary Holmes, a health department spokesman, described a new web portal.

“You dive into DEC’s site, or dive into DOH’s site, a lot of that exists, it’s about, really, about taking that information, streamlining it,” said Holmes.

A 30-day public comment period on the proposed community working group started Wednesday.

The Hoosick Falls community has been active in gathering its own technical data. Last month, Bennington College researchers released a community health survey on reported illnesses possibly linked to the contamination crisis.  The survey found 31 instances of kidney cancer, 11 instances of testicular cancer, and 231 instances of thyroid disease, among other health effects.

The findings differ from a more limited DOH report into incidents in Hoosick Falls from 1995 to 2004. The study foundno statistically significant elevations of cancer.

Holmes, from the state health department, said the methodologies of the DOH and Bennington College studies differ.

“But having said that, we have interest in it if there’s conflicting information, trying to determine why. And we’re working on that now.”

Also, at the meeting, DEC and DOH answered questions about the ongoing investigation work in the Hoosick area. Some residents expressed a desire to learn more about air monitoring efforts. DEC has said it would bring air specialists to a future meeting.

Meanwhile, the search for a new water supply for the Village of Hoosick Falls continues.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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