On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified a facility in the Rensselaer County Village of Hoosick Falls as a federal Superfund. As officials digest the news, WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports on what the designation means and what may be coming next.
On Monday, the EPA acted on what many Hoosick Falls residents have been hoping for ever since the chemical PFOA was found in drinking water there: the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant on McCaffrey Street has been named a federal Superfund.
Deemed a state Superfund in January 2016, the site has been linked to the PFOA contamination in private wells and the municipal water plant. Last month, two additional sites in the village were also classified state Superfunds. PFOA is believed to be a carcinogen and has been linked to ill health effects.
Saint-Gobain, along with Honeywell, has been cooperating with the state under a consent agreement. Hundreds of point-of-entry treatment systems have been installed on private wells. A permanent filtration system is now on the village water supply. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has submitted to the companies a study regarding finding a new, uncontaminated water supply.
On a visit to Albany on Monday, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer called EPA adding Hoosick Falls to the National Priorities List the “best solution” to the contamination issue.
“What does it mean? It means very simply, one thing: that the companies that created this mess are now legally forced to clean it up,” said Schumer.
New York state recommended Hoosick Falls for federal Superfund status in January 2016, shortly before the state issued its own Superfund declaration.
New York has already begun what’s called a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study.
Acting EPA Region 2 Deputy Administrator Walter Mugdan said the federal agency will review New York’s work, but that state and federal requirements are similar.
“We’ll see if there are any specific elements of this study that might have to be adjusted or augmented to satisfy the federal as well as the state requirements, we’ll work closely with the State of New York to make sure that those additional elements are then included in the study. And when the study is completed and the time comes to make a remedy selection, we’ll of course work very closely with the state in doing that,” said Mugdan.
Mugdan said when both government and state agencies work together it’s beneficial, and he anticipated that would be the case in Hoosick Falls.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Sean Mahar said the agency has been in communication with and will continue to meet with EPA as it seeks to hold polluters accountable and locate a clean water source.
“A lot of these efforts are under way by the state and we’ll make sure that we’ll coordinate closely with our federal partners as these efforts continue,” said Mahar.
Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen said he was happy to see EPA come on board, but did express some reservations that he said are shared across the community about high-profile resignations in the agency under the Trump administration.
“There’s always that concern, but you know, I was able to meet with EPA. We asked for a meeting in early July and we had one last week, actually. They came up to Hoosick Falls and it was a really good meeting, a lot of good conversations, they explained a lot. So for the people that I’ve met with I’m very glad and excited to have them on board,” said Allen.
Allen said he is looking forward to the possible facilitation of a Community Advisory Group for the federal Superfund. EPA facilitates independent CAG’s to give local stakeholders a place for input during the decision-making process.
Saint-Gobain emailed a statement to WAMC after the initial publication of this article that reads:
We learned through an announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the USEPA has added the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics McCaffrey Street facility in Hoosick Falls to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List.
As we have said since we first learned of the presence of PFOA in Hoosick Falls, our top priority has been -- and continues to be -- providing potable water to residents, which was memorialized in the joint Consent Order signed in May 2016 by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell. We did not wait to investigate the sources of PFOA– we have taken a leadership position in this effort to provide potable water and continue to do so to this day.
This includes providing and funding the bottled water program, the granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration systems on the Village of Hoosick Falls municipal water supply and the installation of the point-of-entry treatment systems (POETs). To that end, the long-term GAC filtration system for the municipal supply has been in operation since February of 2017 and the New York State Health Commissioner deemed Hoosick Falls’ drinking water amongst “the cleanest in the entire nation.”
For those Village residents not on the municipal water supply, the point-of-entry treatment systems (POETs) that have been installed work in the same way as the GAC on the municipal supply and effectively remove PFOA from the water. We have also been supplying bottled water to the residents of Hoosick Falls for nearly two years – and we instituted that program seven months before we signed our consent order with the state.
As the largest employer in the Village, we take this responsibility to community seriously and will continue to fully and transparently cooperate with the local, state and federal authorities in investigating the sources of PFOA and in providing potable drinking water to residents.