Taking a look at progress in Hoosick Falls after PFOA contamination

Special Reports

HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Five years have passed since PFOA was discovered in the drinking water in Hoosick Falls. It was one of the first places in the nation that PFOA popped up, a discovery that sounded the alarm for the entire state and the nation to set higher standards for the chemicals that have been linked to cancer.  

The companies held responsible for the contamination released their latest report on permanent drinking water solutions for the village in November. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation gave NEWS10 ABC a tour of key sites in the village to show the progress that has taken place and the work that still needs to be done.

The community found itself in a years-long water crisis when the contamination first surfaced in 2014. That’s when village resident Michael Hickey sent off water samples, which came back showing high levels of PFOA, a chemical used by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to make non-stick materials.

Marion Stevens has lived in the village for 30 years.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she recalled. “It’s been five years. You figure there was a year we didn’t know anything about it because we weren’t notified.”

In November 2015, Marion and her neighbors were told not to drink the water. It became a new way of life for her and her husband as they switched to drinking bottled water.

“Once the state responded, they responded very strongly,” Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen explained. “We’ve had a lot of things happening because of the state.”

The state finally got involved in early 2016 and revealed people had been drinking tainted water.  

“We were the first state in the nation to classify PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances,” Sean Mahar with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said.

By the end of January 2016, the state listed Saint-Gobain as a Superfund Site, which unlocked the ability to go after the company to pay for the cleanup. A temporary filtration system was up and running to remove PFOA contamination from the drinking water by March 2016.

“Ultimately we are making sure they’re doing it right, telling them what to do and holding them accountable,” Mahar added.

NEWS10 visited St. Gobain’s site on McCaffery Street to see, and it’s still a work in progress.  The company installed a mobile pump and treat system just this past summer and DEC’s Susan Edwards took us inside.

“I have been working on various aspects of contamination since early 2016,” Edwards stated.

The pumps on the property draw down contamination from the source before it ever has a chance to get into the village water supply.  Edwards explained why it’s taken nearly five years since the discovery of the contamination to get this in place.

“We need the data from the monitoring wells.  We needed to see which way the ground water was flowing. Many of these things can take a long time. Cleanup of ground water contamination can be a many decade long effort.”

For many though, the cloud of contamination is hard to escape.

“One of the big concerns is testicular concerns, and I just found out from a friend someone else has been recently diagnosed. Unfortunately, this is the situation a lot are going to be in,” Mayor Allen explained.

Marion is well aware of those risks. She’s now focused on what’s down the pipeline.

“Finally, glad we are getting something from all the testing we are seeing,” she said.

She has watched as hundreds of DEC workers descended on the village to supply filters for people with private wells, test water samples, and monitor contamination levels. Clean water now comes through a full capacity water filtration system. The series of valves and pipes lead to two huge tanks.

“Water goes through one vessel; it’s tested to make sure the first vessel is cleaning up all the PFOA; second vessel is a polisher just in case there is a small amount coming through,” Edwards said.

Inside the pieces of granulated carbon essentially pulling to PFOA out of the water.

“I trust the water coming out of the tap,” Marion said.

But they are still a long way from all of this being water under the bridge. Another important choice to consider is coming in November.

“When this water report came out, I was thinking it was important people dive back into this,” Mayor Allen stressed.

Five options for a permanent water source have been studied and presented.  The cheapest being to keep the filtration system they already have in place for the municipal water supply. The most expensive is pulling water from the Tomhannock Reservoir via Troy’s Water System.

Table from the Municipal Water Supply Study for the Village of Hoosick Falls report

“Choosing the right water source, regardless of cost, is key for us moving forward in next decade or two. There will be some form of financial burden on the village at some point. If we end up going to Tomhannock and we end up going through Troy, who pays that?”

The state hopes to answer everyone’s questions and concerns in the coming weeks. One thing remains clear, the people of Hoosick Falls want clean water they can count on.

“I would love a brand new water source without any filter or anything,” Marion said.

DEC will make the ultimate decision on what will keep the water flowing sometime in 2020.  The public comment period has been extended  to December 3.

You can email  HoosickWaterSupply@dec.ny.gov with your questions, comments and concerns. You can also visit https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/108791.html to review the study on alternate water sources.

A class action lawsuit filed by Weitz and Luxenberg against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell will also start to move forward in January.

A proposed class covers properties affected by the contamination in Hoosick Falls. The next step is for the court to certify the class. A court date to file that motion has been set for the end of January.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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