Petersburgh to push through first NYS lawsuit against PFOA contamination

Rensselaer County

PETERSBURGH, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A small Rensselaer County community will soon take a big plastics company to court over contaminated drinking water.

“People wanna know that if you caused a mess, you’re responsible to clean it up,” explains attorney James Bilsborrow of Weitz and Luxenberg.

Bilsborrow represents the people of Petersburgh, who celebrated a small victory Thursday as a New York Supreme Court judge ruled their class action lawsuit against Taconic, Inc. has the grounds to go ahead.

“People in Petersburgh have had their properties contaminated, their bodies contaminated, they didn’t do anything wrong, okay? They did nothing more than live in this community,” Bilsborrow says to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Bilsborrow and the small Petersburgh population of 1,500 will now take the case to a Rensselaer County court and jury. Their case will be the first of its kind in New York State. Bilsborrow says the goal is to prove Taconic Inc. was negligent in how they disposed of harmful PFOA contaminants that made it into the town’s drinking water.

“As the court wrote in its opinion, the evidence shows that Taconic knew that the water below its facility was contaminated as early as 2004,” he explains.

As NEWS10 reported in 2016, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation investigators found high levels of PFOAs in both the water and high levels in people’s blood. The C8 Science Panel published findings PFOAs are linked to liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer.

“It’s very frightening to know cancer-causing chemicals have been coming into your house through your shower, your faucet, your drinking water,” Bilsborrow says of his interactions with the Petersburgh citizens.

A press release from Weitz and Luxenberg says in the discovery process, they’ve uncovered evidence that shows “during the manufacture of certain products at the Taconic facility, liquid solution containing PFOA was heated until it took on a vapor form, which was then released through smokestacks and carried by wind into the surrounding community. The lawsuit alleges that employees at Taconic also improperly disposed of substances containing PFOA in the facility’s sinks and drains and improperly discharged wastewater containing PFOA into the septic system and nearby leach fields.”

Bilsborrow says not only did this put a health strain on the people of Petersburgh, but also a financial one.

“People have had to install water filters on their own private wells, they are responsible for keeping those water filters up, and we have expert testimony that shows property values decreased in Petersburgh by as much as 20% as a result of the PFOA contamination. That’s a big strain especially for folks in a small community whose home is their number one asset,” he explains.

The lawsuit calls for Petersburgh’s population to be provided with compensation for nuisance, property damage, and medical monitoring.

“It’s important for them to have a medical monitoring program to get them the assistance so that they can detect any problems early and get treatment,” Bilsborrow says, referencing the risk of future cancer development.

“We’ve been able to help them get to the bottom of this, and we are looking forward to presenting the facts to a jury and letting a jury decide whether Taconic was negligent when it contaminated the community,” he concludes.

NEWS10 spoke with a Taconic representative who would only say the company can’t comment on pending litigation.

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