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PFAS Health Study To Include Petersburgh Residents

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

A federally-funded study is examining the human health effects of PFAS exposure. The University at Albany and New York State Department of Health are working to study those affected in Hoosick Falls and surrounding area, and the City of Newburgh. Meantime, some in the Rensselaer County Town of Petersburgh feel regulators need to do more to address PFAS contamination.

Part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, is undertaking a multi-site study of the health effects of exposure to PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

PFAS contamination has been linked to numerous ill-health effects including some forms of cancer.

The University at Albany and the New York State Department of Health plan to enroll 1,000 adults and 300 children from the Rensselaer County Village of Hoosick Falls and surrounding area, and the City of Newburgh in the study.

Dr. Erin Bell is a Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University at Albany.

“So this is a very structured, traditional epidemiology research study. We will be enrolling people based on their residency in communities that have the documented exposure. And then we will be measuring for a variety of clinical biomarkers related to the immune system function, as well as thyroid and kidney function and liver function. And in children, we will be studying neurobehavioral effects. We won’t be enrolling people based on their outcome status, we’ll be enrolling people based on their potential for exposure,” said Bell.

Bell recently traveled to the small Rensselaer County Town of Petersburgh, just a few miles from Hoosick Falls, to discuss the study. The town has been dealing with contaminated drinking water first confirmed in February 2016, following the detection of PFOA in drinking water supplies in Hoosick Falls.

A group of community members called C8 hosted Bell to learn more about the study.

Ben Krahforst is a member.

“We’re glad that New York State did decide to include Petersburgh. We are a little disappointed that they did not include people from the municipal water district, but they are including anyone on POET systems with 400 parts per trillion or more in their water,” said Krahforst.

But as much political and media attention has been given to Hoosick Falls, Krahforst and other members of C8 feel Petersburgh has been somewhat neglected in the public eye.

Petersburgh has been listed as a New York State Superfund site, and Taconic – the company linked to PFAS contamination – has entered a consent order with the state.

Filtration systems have been installed on private wells in the town and the municipal water supply. Testing and monitoring also continues and the DEC is investigating the Petersburgh landfill as a potential Superfund site.

Krahforst, however, says residents have a lot of questions about contamination that have gone unanswered, despite public input sessions with DEC.  

“So we’ve asked DEC for short term goals. What about the eggs that people eat here? You know? Because the chickens are eating insects that come from the ground, etc., that may be contaminated with PFOA. What about the beef? What about the maple syrup? Trees pull up water. There’s a host of others.  Vegetables from people’s gardens, etc.”

Krahforst said he has heard “nothing” from DEC about the short-term requests.  

“It’s very frustrating for our committee, very frustrating for our community to know that there’s some stuff that can be done right now. We recognize that there’s long-term goals that will take years to do. But we also recognize that there’s some short-term goals that would be very beneficial to the residents here to put them at ease on some of this stuff.”

“It’s almost like the DEC…there’s a lot that citizens in the community don’t know because they are not putting pressure on Taconic and giving them a rigid timeline.”

Jacqueline Monette is a Petersburgh resident and C8 member who lives near the Taconic Plant. She claims her shaking hands are linked to exposure to contaminated water after moving to her home in 2004. Monette wants air monitoring near the Taconic plant. Though chemical PFOA has been voluntarily phased out by industry, Monette worries about potential unknown replacement chemicals.

“When I would go out to work in the morning I would cover my face because I was so afraid of breathing that. And at night, too. After, around 6, 7, 8 o’clock at night. And [DEC] have told me, ‘Oh, well we really can’t. We really can’t test the air.’ And I know that in 2021 that that is not a true statement, and I have friends who are engineers and they can test the air, but they don’t want to because I believe there are other things in that air that they do not want to expose.”

Recently, three companies blamed for the pollution of water supplies in and around Hoosick Falls agreed to pay $65 million to settle a federal lawsuit. The deal that requires court approval would provide money and medical monitoring for thousands of property owners and residents. 

At the same time, federal lawmakers from New York are pushing for PFAS-related legislation in Washington.

C8 member Ira Share says anything to address contamination after the fact, however, is too late.

“I think the best overall plan for our future is to take a precautionary measure and before we start using these chemicals and releasing them into the environment, let’s figure out if they are in fact dangerous first, so we don’t have to backtrack, so we don’t have to have health studies. Let’s dispose of them properly if they are toxic,” said Share.

A DEC spokesperson responded to a WAMC request for comment:

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) remains committed to advancing a comprehensive cleanup in Petersburgh that provides the strongest protections possible for the people of Petersburgh and their environment and natural resources and holds the responsible parties fully accountable for making this community whole again. DEC continues to work closely with NYSDOH and the Petersburgh community to comprehensively address contamination and hold polluters accountable.

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