– Hoosick Falls Report Card: 1 Year of Crisis

November 21, 2016

This week marks the one-year anniversary since Hoosick Falls residents were first informed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it was unsafe to drink their water due to Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination. Today, residents released a #1YrCheckup report card which grades Governor Cuomo and state government on four key response areas that affect residents’ lives:

For Immediate Release: November 21, 2016                                  

Hoosick Falls Report Card: 1 Year of Crisis

One year after PFOA contamination became public, residents “fail” state on response

Albany – This week marks the one-year anniversary since Hoosick Falls residents were first informed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it was unsafe to drink their water due to Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination.

Today, residents released a #1YrCheckup report card which grades Governor Cuomo and state government on four key response areas that affect residents’ lives:

  • PFOA Advisory Levels (FAIL)
  • Bio and Medical Monitoring (INCOMPLETE)
  • Identification of a New Water Source (INCOMPLETE)
  • Government Accountability & Transparency (FAIL)

Residents and advocates also released policy recommendations for Governor Cuomo and state legislators to act on in 2017 to ensure all New Yorkers are drinking safe and healthy water.

Michelle O’Leary, a Hoosick Falls mother, said “I could have never imagined that one year on, we’d still be fighting Governor Cuomo’s team for our right to drinking water that doesn’t make me or my family sick. The fears are as raw today as they were one year ago, and the state’s lumbering response continues to place the people I love in danger. New York has failed us, so our report card is our chance to draw attention to their actions and to fail them.”

Laura Peabody, a mother and longtime resident of Hoosick Falls, said “My daughter, Ashlynn, has been drinking water laced with a likely carcinogen her entire life. None of us knew. When Governor Cuomo says New York is doing everything it can for residents, it seems to me that the first order of business would be ensuring my daughter’s health, and monitoring her over the long-term, knowing it can take years for impacts of PFOA contamination to rear its head. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the opposite. The state stalled on blood test results, stalled on providing us with the information to understand the results when they arrived, and are now stalling on what we know is necessary – bio and medical monitoring for potentially affected residents like Ashlynn.”

Connie Plouffe, a resident of Petersburgh for 18 years, said “Chemical regulations stink. We get it. For years, companies like Honeywell and Saint-Gobain were allowed to do whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted, to whomever they wanted. But in 2016, our government and our elected officials should know better. When a crisis like this arises, you step up and do your best to keep it from happening to anyone else. Instead, more than 2.5 years after the state first learned about dangerous contamination levels, New York is behind other states like Vermont is lowering the safety limits. It’s not just frustrating for the residents here, it’s dangerous and dumb.”

Jennifer Plouffe, Connie’s daughter, who closed on the sale of her new home one day before the EPA’s announcement, said “What is the purpose of the Department of Health if not to at least warn residents when their health may be at risk? When New York could have told us levels were dangerous, they failed to do so. When residents needed clear information, the state failed to provide it. When we needed the results of our blood tests, the state failed to move quickly. When we needed accountability, state legislators reneged. When we demanded answers from the polluters responsible, the state went silent. There is a pattern here. We deserve better from New York State. It’s been a year since we learned our lives were changing – it’s time for the state to shape up and get the job done.”

Michele Baker, a Hoosick Falls resident for nearly two decades, said “We have no interest in failing Governor Cuomo because that means he has failed us. We’ve been thrust into this crisis, and an entire year into our lives being turned upside down, there still doesn’t appear to be any level of accountability or any plan for the future. New Yorkers have a right to water that doesn’t make us sick, and we deserve a Governor and state government who follow through on their promises.”

Report Card Grades – Overall: FAIL

PFOA Advisory Levels: Currently the acceptable PFOA and PFOS levels, which were determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are 70 parts per trillion (ppt). Prior to that, the levels were 400 ppt. Governor Cuomo has indicated the EPA’s numbers are sufficient, however, residents feel strongly that the state can lead on this issue and further lower the acceptable advisory levels. Grade: F

Bio and Medical Monitoring: Blood testing has been ongoing in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, which is necessary for residents to know their levels of PFOA. However, medical monitoring is critical for identifying symptoms associated with thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and others which have been linked to PFOA exposure. A long-term medical monitoring program will provide vital research that can be used to protect not only current but future generations who have been exposed to the same or similar contaminants. Grade: Incomplete

New Water Source: While filters have been installed in homes that have requested them, the water continues to be contaminated with PFOA. This has led residents to continue drinking and bathing in bottled water. Residents still need a clean water source so they can feel safe and rest assured that when they turn on their tap, the water is safe to drink. Grade: Incomplete

Government Transparency: Despite knowing about the PFOA contamination in Hoosick Falls for 18 months, the state declined to take action. And when the EPA stepped in and alerted residents to not drink the water, the state’s Department of Health (DOH) stood by their position that the water was safe to drink. Additionally:

  • DOH-issued fact sheets were grossly misleading, with DOH head Dr. Howard Zucker only recently conceding they were confusing.
  • It took months for residents to receive results from the first round of blood testing. And when they did, it was with no information on how to decipher the findings, or what the numbers even meant.
  • After promising legislative hearings on the crisis, leaders quietly left session without them materializing. Only after significant public advocacy did they occur, one in August and one in September.
  • The polluters responsible never attended the hearings, one of them offering a brief, half-page testimony describing their position.
  • Senate Republicans have still not released subpoenaed documents from those responsible for the PFOA water contamination, including polluters Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, Taconic Plastics, and Honeywell International. Grade: F

Policy Recommendations for 2017

In August and September, state legislators conducted three hearings (with a fourth promised but not yet organized) on New York’s clean water needs. Governor Cuomo also established the Water Quality Rapid Response Team. Legislators and the Executive should work together to advance these measures in 2017:

  • Test water systems statewide for the presence of PFCs. Currently, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is conducting a survey which asks potential polluters to self-report if such pollution occurred; the scope of the survey is unclear, as is follow-up plans to guarantee accuracy. Proactive testing should occur to ensure contamination is not more widespread. This will require support within the SFY2017-18 Budget.
  • Lower New York’s advisory level for PFOA and PFOS to below the EPA’s level of 70 ppt; several other states like Vermont and New Jersey have already taken such action. This can occur through standard agency rulemaking.
  • Create a process to regulate the other 80,000 unregulated chemicals on the market. Currently in New York State, if a chemical is not regulated, it is not tested for in drinking water, which means there may be significant unknown contamination until such regulation occurs. This will likely require executive and legislative action.
  • Require water testing for emerging contaminants in communities with fewer than 10,000 residents. New York has stated its intent to wait for the EPA to act; New York should act immediately. This can occur through standard agency rulemaking.