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Residents Of Poestenkill Discuss PFOA-Contaminated Drinking Water

A glass of water

Residents of the Rensserlaer County town of Poestenkill gathered at Monday night to discuss the recent discovery of PFOA in drinking water.

Averill Park Central School District water supplies tested in January showed levels of PFOA above 10 parts per trillion at the Algonquin Middle School. Water fountains were shut down and bottled water was provided for drinking, cooking, and dishwashing. Since then the district says it has worked closely with the county, the state Education Department and Town of Poestenkill to develop a plan to address the contamination.

Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, a 36-year resident of the town, says although the State Health Department, the Rensselaer County Health Department and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have been working on the problem, the entities aren't working fast enough, considering no one knows how long PFOA has been in the aquifer.

“I commend the school for immediately turning off the tap, once they learned about this in January. And sure, this was the last thing they wanted to deal with. But a problem is the gap in timing. So, officials knew about this in January, did not start testing residential wells until August. And my understanding is they tested 10 wells, and then another 10 are being tested this week. This is just too slow. There needs to be a sense of urgency here. And so here's what I think needs to happen. The state agencies, the DEC and the health department seem to be deferring to the county health department. I think the state agencies have to be in the lead because they're far more experienced and have more resources than the county. So I think state DEC and DOH, I’m very happy they're here tonight. I think they need to drive this process.”

Officials at the meeting said they planned to continue community conversations going forward. DEC Chief of Staff Sean Mahar: "We appreciated the opportunity to join Poestenkill residents last night to provide an update on our ongoing actions to address PFAS compounds found in the Algonquin Middle School's water supply. Since those low level detections were found in January, state experts from DEC and DOH have worked with the Rensselaer County Health Department to develop a science based plan of action and implement that on the ground. That work very much is underway right now and we look forward to keeping the community updated as our efforts advance."

Enck, Visiting Professor at Bennington College and President of Beyond Plastics, encourages fellow residents to do their own research and get organized.

The Town of Poestenkill purchases its water from the city of Troy, sourced from the Tomhannock reservoir in the town of Pittstown.

Poestenkill Water Manager Bob Brunet says GAC's, granular activated carbon filters, which have been installed in two homes, offer a short-term option to remove the chemicals from water.

"These problems are caused by wells. Troy gets our water, I have no problems with our water, municipal water. Why? Of course it’s purchase from Troy, pumped through Brunswick, and that water is from the surface water of the reservoir. So my recommendation is go ahead with the GAC's now ,on everyone. Get the testing as quickly as we can if we have a problem, but the GAC’s on, but secondly, connect to our water from Troy. I've done all sorts of elevation calculation of mileage calculators, fully feasible, can be done. There's money out there. So those decisions have to be made."

Hoosick Falls resident Michelle Baker shared her experiences with PFAS, telling residents "you're in for a hell of a fight."

"We do have a new administration in New York state and I am extremely pleased with that and I'll be very frank with you: bye Andy, bye Dr. Zucker. I'm not going to miss either one of you one bit, because Howard Zucker and Andrew Cuomo allowed the people of Hoosick Falls to drink contaminated water for 18 months."

Baker referring there to Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, who just announced his resignation.

Although two miles from the village, Baker says her well was found to be contaminated and she now gets her water tested every 90 days. She stressed the importance of the community coming together.

"What I want you to do, is find groups of people. Find folks. Maybe your well is not contaminated today, maybe your well is, you don't know about yours tomorrow. This moves like a tornado. These plumes, and there's so much technical to learn and there's so many tests, so many different things. It could be you today, not you tomorrow."

Officials say a source of the contamination has not yet been determined. PFAS chemicals have been linked to ill health effects including cancer.

Organizers expect to schedule more meetings. The next is October 9th at 11 a.m.

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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