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Middle School Wrestles With PFOA Problem

A picture of a school classroom
Wikimedia Commons/Malate269

In January, the chemical PFOA was found in a water sample from Algonquin Middle School in Rensselaer County, along with two samples from neighboring homes. Officials promise a fix by the end of the year.

Water samples showed levels of PFOA, believed to cause ill health effects including cancer, above 10 parts per trillion at the Algonquin Middle School in Poestenkill. Water fountains were shut down and bottled water was provided for drinking, cooking, and dishwashing.

Averill Park Central School District Superintendent Jim Franchini says the district has two options: installing an in-house filtration system, or connecting to the town water supply.

"We felt the best short term answer for us was some kind of filtration system on our campus. Not that we necessarily wanted to get into the water filtration business, but we thought it was the quickest and easiest and best solution to get our building off of the bottled water. Because we're using it from multiple sources, you know, the cooking and drinking and things, it's really impacting how we do business there in our kitchen that serves our middle school. We did that, started that process to go through it and, you know, kind of go through all the regulatory reviews and get all the approvals. And that is in progress. Actually, the approval part is past that, we're actually at the point of moving forward with it, and working with our architect and our project manager here to get that filtration system in as soon as possible."

Franchini says the new system will cost approximately $150,000, 75% of which will be reimbursed to the district through state aid because it is an emergency project.

Former EPA Regional Administrator and long-time town resident Judith Enck says everyone should pay attention to the situation at the school.

"Poestenkill has public water, which is clean. It's from the Tomhannock. So there is the ability to be connected there. I think that agencies need to share more information with the public. I want them to establish a public website where people can go to one spot, get information, a repository in the library and a repository in the middle school library. Because students should learn from this experience."

Franchini says the district has worked closely with the county, the state Education Department and the town to develop a plan to address the contamination. He says town officials and parents will have the final say.

"If the town was to bring the water line past our middle school, we would certainly be more than willing to tap into that, because we know the best possible solution is still, long term, to be part of that municipal supply, the water coming through the town to the city of Troy, we know it's going to be the best water. And as we also know, as mandates change, we're only going to be required to test more, not less, and there'll be more potential issues."

The source of PFOA contamination has yet to be determined. Franchini believes the best long term option is municipal water. He says the goal is for the new filtration system to be in place in December.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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