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Hoosick Falls Settlement Meeting Postponed, A Look Back At Water Contamination In 2016

The Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility on McCaffrey Street in Hoosick Falls
Lucas Willard
Saint-Gobain's plant in Hoosick Falls

The Village of Hoosick Falls has postponed a meeting scheduled for today where officials were set to consider a settlement offer by the companies deemed responsible for the contamination of local water supplies. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports on the latest developments in one of the biggest stories of 2016 — and looks back on how we got here.

It was in January of 2016 that EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck traveled to Hoosick Falls to warn residents of unsafe levels of the chemical PFOA in their drinking water.

“Do not drink the water from the Hoosick Falls public water supply. Do not cook with the water from the Hoosick Falls water supply."

Though high levels of the chemical used in manufacturing non-stick materials were first found in the village’s water in the summer of 2014, it was more than a year later when EPA publicly notified residents to take precautions.

Bottled water was distributed to households and state government stepped in to install filtration systems on the village water system and private wells in the surrounding area.

In March, Governor Andrew Cuomo, amid a firestorm of criticism from residents and politicians over the state’s response to the contamination crisis, announced that a filtration system on the village water supply was up and running.

“The answer for today was the temporary filter is installed, they have done the testing, the water that comes out of the temporary filter — the Calgon filter — is what they call non-detect for PFOA.  So that is very, very good,” said Cuomo.

Hoosick Falls was declared a state Superfund Site, with buildings owned by companies Saint-Gobain, and previously Honeywell and other companies, at the center of the contamination question.

A class-action suit was filed against the companies and eventually the site was recommended for Federal Superfund Status.

The story drew national headlines. Politicians including U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited.  There was another political battle over legislative hearings on the state’s response to the contamination. Mothers from Flint, Michigan came to share their own stories about contaminated water. Public meetings were packed.

PFOA was also discovered in nearby Petersburgh, tied to company Taconic. In November, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced that an agreement was reached to hold the company responsible for remediation.

Meantime, PFOS, a sister chemical to PFOA, was discovered in the water supply for Newburgh in New York’s Hudson Valley, traced to Stewart Air Force Base. The chemical discovered in Washington Lake was traced to firefighting foam used at the base. A state Superfund site was declared. The city of 28,000 now takes its water from the Catskill Aqueduct. A filtration system to address PFOS for Newburgh’s municipal water system is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

Meanwhile, the state of Vermont took its own precautions, testing for the pervasive chemical in water supplies near the former Chemfab Plant in North Bennington. High levels were found in Bennington, North Bennington, as well as nearby Pownal.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin addressed a crowd at Bennington College in March.

"There's nothing we can do to undo what has happened. What I do promise is that we will work with you at every level of state government to make the best of a horrid situation,” said Shumlin.

The state is pushing forward with a plan to extend clean municipal water to homes with contaminated wells in Bennington and North Bennington.

Pownal’s do-not-drink order was lifted in August.

In the final week of 2016, a meeting where Hoosick Falls officials were to discuss a settlement offer by Honeywell and Saint-Gobain to address the contamination crisis was postponed.

Mayor David Borge said attorneys with the village and companies are working on the issue but were met with some delays.

“And with the holidays and all, the company attorneys just weren’t able to get in touch with any of their folks. So I’m still very optimistic that it’s going to get finished and that we’re going to get it done. But we wanted to make sure everything was signed off, sealed, agreed upon before we presented it to the board and to the public,” said Borge.

With the meeting cancelation, it’s certain one of the biggest stories of 2016 will continue into the new year.

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