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Petersburgh committee wants more dialogue with DEC as PFAS investigation continues

Family Tree of PFAS chemicals
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently provided an update on its investigation into PFAS contamination linked to the Taconic Plastics facility in Petersburgh, New York.

Under a consent order with DEC, Taconic has been investigating the extent of the contamination in Rensselaer County since 2016.

After a work plan was approved by DEC last month, Taconic has begun reaching out to community members for participation in an agricultural study to identify potential PFAS exposure pathways through food.

DEC officials appeared at Petersburgh town hall Wednesday night to provide details of the years-long investigation, but some want more frequent communication with the Department.

Ira Share is a member of Petersburgh’s C8 Committee. Share told WAMC’s Lucas Willard the group is currently drafting a letter DEC to request additional dialogue.

Whether it's a Zoom meeting or an in-person meeting, we really…that presentation on Wednesday night was very scientific in nature and took up most of the meeting. And it really was not an opportunity to dig a little bit deeper into some of our concerns, you know? Some of our concerns, for example, there's a few hotspots over at that Superfund site we've been asking for them to be remediated sooner rather than later. It's called an IRM, and interim remedial measure. And that's something that we really didn't get a chance to talk about the other night. They said, there's a plan in place, and they're going to remove some soil, but we need to dig deeper, definitely deeper into that and try to push that along as fast as possible. We don't … great when DEC comes out here, but we'll take a Zoom meeting, we need to sit in a circle and get some of our questions and our concerns dealt with.

Did the pandemic contribute to any loss of communication, perhaps more in 2020 and 2021, that left a lot of questions on answered or restricted the ability to have a face to face meeting?

Sure, sure. And it kind of restricted our meetings too. Our monthly meetings went to Zoom and DEC’s meetings went to Zoom when we had them. That definitely played a role in this for sure. So we made the best of it just like everybody else. And kept going. We all learned how to use Zoom.

How do you feel the people of Petersburgh feel overall about this investigation that's taken years now? You know, are they frustrated? Are they tuned out? What do you think?

Yes to all of that. Some people are frustrated, some people have tuned out and sometimes it's better just not to deal with it and just kind of put it behind you. You know, there's a very strong core group that meets and does things and we would love to see that group expand. You know, we are…when we have our meetings, we have at a town hall and we do stream though, so we're not sure how many people are streaming those as well. But yeah, I would definitely say that people are frustrated. It's the process, it’s so long, that it's easy to kind of set that aside when you're doing other things.

How has the communication been with the town board?

Our current town board is, has been very, very, very supportive. And…there's a good strong group from our C8 Committee at each town board meeting. And sometimes we're on the agenda. Sometimes we speak at an open access and public access, just to update the town board on things. And sometimes we're part of the agenda if we have more to report…there's a health study also taking place with the University of Albany with Dr. Erin Bell. So Kathy and I are the liaisons for that. And we update our town board on that as well. So yeah, they've been very supportive.

Has the C8 committee in Petersburgh had any conversations across the state line over with Bennington College? I know that they've done a lot of research into PFAS over there, dealing with the contamination issues in the Bennington area, as well as just a few miles away in Hoosick Falls. Have you spoken with any academics over at Bennington?

Uh, not recently, back in the early days, we have had meetings with David Bond from Bennington College. He has come to Petersburg a few times to help us in the early stages. And we have in he's answered our questions through email. So yeah, yes, we have. We have worked with him. We we've had Judy Enck come out once to speak with us on how to how to work with government agencies. So, yes. And we're working very closely with people at University of Albany right now.

Ira, since the PFAS contamination was found, this has now become an a nationwide problem. What do you think about that? And as being a resident in one of the communities that was found to be affected early on in sort of this national spotlight?

Well, what do I think about that? It scares me that so many communities are going to go through what we're going through right now. We're actually ahead of the game. It doesn't sound like it. It doesn't feel like it but we at least know how to be a little bit safer right now and it scares me because other communities are out there and they may be drinking contaminated water and they don't know it yet. And it is, you're right, it is in the news just about every day now, you hear about another community and another study that comes out and you hear about Gen X, is a replacement compound and an EPA finding that that is just as dangerous as the chemicals that it replaced, so yeah, it's really, really concerning right now. But at least Petersburgh, I guess is ahead of the curve right now because we're dealing with it. Trying to deal with it.

What would you like to see in the immediate future, looking ahead?

The closest thing right now, a couple of things on my mind, is just I really want to learn more about that AG study, and I would like this community to have a chance to participate in that. I would like the scope of that to be broader. People come to Petersburgh to hunt, they fish in that Little Hoosic River some people take those fish home and they don't have no idea if those fish are contaminated or not. We'd like to know that our soil is clean. We'd like know that what we grow in our soil is safe to consume. That's a priority. And another priority would be more opportunities for our citizens to participate in this process. More communication from our government agencies.

Ira Share is a Petersburgh resident and a member of the town's C8 Committee.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation responded to a WAMC request for comment.

Sean Mahar is the Department’s Executive Deputy Commissioner:

“As part of our commitment to the Petersburg community, DEC and DOH experts provided an important update on the state's ongoing actions to hold Taconic Plastics accountable for the PFAS contamination they've caused in the area. Since day one state officials have worked hard to ensure the residents of Petersburg are informed and protected. And this week's meeting was just another opportunity for residents to learn the latest on the state's actions to ensure that the full nature and extent of the contamination is identified and appropriate cleanup plans developed. Extensive progress is underway and DEC will continue to keep the community informed as this progress continues. Our experts are always available if area residents have questions and please visit our Petersburg webpage dec.ny.gov for the latest information and site contacts.”

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