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Hoosick Falls Residents Seek Inclusion In Federal Study

The Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility on McCaffrey Street in Hoosick Falls
Lucas Willard
The Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility on McCaffrey Street in Hoosick Falls

UPDATE 9/13/18:

The communications office for NCEH/ATSDR tells WAMC "the communities for this project have not been selected at this time."

A spokesman for the New York State Department of Health tells WAMC it has reached out to ATSDR seeking clarification on the communities included in the study and has spoke to the mayor of Hoosick Falls about the issue. 

A spokesman for the office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says the senator is "still looking into the proposal, but she is supportive of any proposal that can help communities affected by PFOA get more information on health impacts."

The federal government has proposed studying communities affected by PFAS contamination – like many in the Northeast. But residents of one community that is not on the list say the study is too short-sighted.

A growing number of communities across the country are dealing with PFAS pollution — a large number of unregulated compounds, some of which have been linked to illnesses including forms of cancer. 

The presence of PFAS chemicals linked to military bases has prompted the federal government to propose a round of testing in affected communities.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the CDC National Center for Environmental Health are proposing a minimum of eight “exposure assessments.”

Respondents to the assessments would submit blood serum and urine samples. Indoor dust and tap water would also be sampled.

One community approached for the study is Newburgh, New York, whose Washington Lake water supply has been contaminated with the chemical PFOS. The chemical, which is an ingredient in firefighting foam, has been linked to the nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base.

The New York State Department of Health has already completed one round of blood testing in Newburgh.

Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey says he hopes testing from the federal government can be helpful for other communities dealing with PFAS contamination.

“All parties involved that are responsible for this contamination should be held accountable. And a study is hopefully going to prevent other communities from going through this same tragedy,” said Harvey. “And as the Mayor of the City of Newburgh, I think that it’s super important to speak up and speak out because my test results are three times the amount of my wife and my kids, which was well over the national average.”

But the federal study into PFAS health effects does not extend to communities with contamination not linked to military sites — like Hoosick Falls.

Hoosick Falls, where the presence of PFOA in water supplies has been linked to current and former industrial sites, has been placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List. Like in Newburgh, New York’s Department of Health has performed blood testing there, with a second round underway.

Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen wants to see his community included in the federal study. 

“For a PFAS-specific investigation to be so narrowly limited to a few DOD sites specific to mainly one PFAS chemical, PFOS, is a really short-sighted decision,” said Allen. “And I want to make sure, and I think that everyone here will back me up on this, is that a community like Hoosick Falls, New York, Petersburgh, New York, North Bennington – who have had PFOA contamination – are absolutely a part of this because it’s not just important for our communities but it’s important for other communities who are going through PFAS contamination.”

Hoosick Falls resident and activist Loreen Hackett agrees.

“It’s a stupid question. Here we are! We’re volunteering to be your guinea pigs. Why aren’t you using us? You say you need it, here we are,” said Hackett.

Hackett said she brought her concerns to the offices of Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as the state health department.

She also said she was recently on a webinar call with the CDC’s Patrick Breysee, Director of the National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and asked about including Hoosick Falls in a national study.

“He did not discount us. But he wouldn’t commit to adding us, either,” said Hackett.

A request for comment to ATSDR was not returned in time for broadcast. Public comments on the proposed study are due by Monday, Sept. 17th.

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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