Hoosick Falls Water PFOA Contamination Update

Dec 22, 2015

Did you know? Microwave popcorn bags may contain residual PFOA from fluorotelomers.
Credit wikipedia

The presence of the chemical compound PFOA in the village water supply has residents of one community on edge.

In early November, residents of the Rensselaer County village of Hoosick Falls received notice from manufacturing plant Saint-Gobain, confirming that water samples near its site tested positive for a chemical called PFOA. So where is the community is headed from here?

PFOA is short for Perfluorooctanoic acid.  It is used in the manufacturing of Teflon, the coating often found on kitchenware. The substance is not regulated under the U.S. Safe Water Drinking Act.

Nearly 200 people work at the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant at 14 McCaffrey Street, manufacturing tapes and foams.

Company spokeswoman Julia DiCorleto says no one knows where the PFOA came from; suspicions are the substance was used by one of many  previous owners of the facility, which dates back to the mid 1950s.  "We learned about it over a year ago and we've been cooperating with the village, with the state, department of health, and we notified the EPA a year ago about this."

People who worked at the plant in the past who were interviewed by the Times Union in a recent series of investigative stories said they routinely cleaned equipment on a nearby hillside some 400 yards from the village's most productive underground water well, which may have violated environmental laws, a practice that may account for the introduction of PFOA into the ecosystem.

Categorized as an "emerging contaminant" by the EPA, long-term effects of PFOA are largely unknown. Studies in humans have found that people with workplace exposure to PFOA have higher risks of bladder and kidney cancers.

EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck says the agency recently advised Hoosick Falls' 5,000 residents not to drink or cook with water from the tap.  "Further, we put out a statement last week, advising that children or people with skin conditions should avoid prolonged contact with PFOA-contaminated water. So that's long showers and long baths. We're not saying avoid the showers and the baths altogether, but particularly for children and people with skin conditions, try to make those baths and showers as short as possible."

Saint-Gobain is looking to spend upwards of $2 million to install a carbon water filtration system, technology known as GAC, to remove PFOA from the village water supply.  "The village really did the homework and groundwork on this, on identifying the GAC system, and it has been approved by the state department of health, this system, and our understanding is that it will take the PFOA levels down to basically zero, to less than detectable levels."

GAC filters are considered safe: they're made from raw organic materials (such as coconut shells or coal) that are high in carbon.   Enck says it will take nine months to a year to install such a system.  "The state Health Department will be required to sign off on whatever the water treatment technology is being used to make sure that this material is taken out of the water supply. The state Health Department has a goal of non-detectable levels of PFOA in the public drinking water supply, which is a very good goal. But there obviously are some pretty serious logistical problems here. It's gonna take awhile to install carbon filtration, if in fact that's the direction the state Health Department wants to go, and in the meantime, we've gotta get the word out to the people not to drink the public water supply in Hoosick Falls."  You can hear an interview with Enck on this topic by clicking here.

Saint-Gobain is providing daily supplies of bottled water to people who are worried about contamination.

  • Bottled water is available at Tops Market in Hoosick Falls at no cost to residents. Only 1 gallon and 2.5 gallon containers of select brands of water are available at no cost (no water in redeemable bottles). A maximum of 5 gallons per day per household is available at no cost. Sign in at the Service Desk at the Tops Market in Hoosick Falls first to receive a coupon(s) to be used at the checkout register. Tops Market in Hoosick Falls is open 7 days a week.

According to the website cancer.org, PFOA, also known as C8, can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. Studies have found that it is present at very low levels in just about everyone's blood in the United States. Higher levels have been found in the blood of community residents where local water supplies have been contaminated by PFOA.