HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. >> U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she will fight for stricter regulations on a toxic chemical found in local water supplies and for health studies for residents.
The Democrat and county resident on Friday met with residents faced with water contamination. She drew applause when she called for a ban on PFOA, a man-made chemical used in factories for decades.
She became emotional at times as residents shared their stories.
"Your testimony is important," Gillibrand said to participants and 300 attendees in the high school auditorium of the Hoosick Falls Central School. She spoke in support of hearings on the government response to contamination. "We have to elevate this so we can change the laws. We have to have as many people as possible pay attention."
The event coincided with something many residents have long called for — the state Senate announced it will hold hearings on the response to the man-made chemical that turned up in drinking water. The decision comes two days after the Assembly announced it would hold hearings.
The Senate hearings will "explore the sources of water contamination, examine state and federal oversight issues, and determine how we can prevent this from happening in the future," John Flanagan, a Republican, said in a statement.
Panelists included Superintendent Ken Facin, resident Michael Hickey, teachers, students and residents, as well as officials with the Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control, and National Instititute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Some audience members appeared to be frustrated with the meeting and walked out after just a few minutes. On social media, some criticized Gillibrand and others for not giving more time for questions.
In a meeting with the press, Gillibrand, said that her goal was to listen. She said federal agencies were there at her request and left with an understanding of how serious the situation is and how scared people are. She said her office, which provided note cards and contact information to residents, will review any written questions.
Gillibrand did not directly respond to questions about whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration delayed response to the water crisis.
When asked about what else the state could do, she said the state and federal government needs better laws to make polluters pay.
"I don't think anyone ever handles issues as well as we could. It's always more clear in hindsight," she said.
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, turned up in municipal water systems and private wells in the town of Hoosick, the village of Hoosick Falls, and the town of Petersburgh. The man-made chemical was formerly used to make Teflon and been linked to cancer and other diseases.
Gillibrand said a medical monitoring program, like the one modeled for 9/11 first responders, would study health effects and provide guidance for local doctors.
She told reporters that she believes that program "should be the number one thing the state asks for when negotiating with the companies" responsible for the contamination."
In Hoosick Falls, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International have signed consent orders. In Petersburgh, Taconic Plastics is the responsible party, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. That company hasn't signed a consent order. All have paid for bottled water and filters.
News reports talk about the state declaring Superfund sites, declining home values and lawsuits, resident Heather Clifford said. But no ones been able to answer questions about health.
"I need to know what to tell my kids," she told Gillibrand.
Scientists have been studying health effects for such a short time, long-term problems for children aren't known, according to Sue Fenton of the NIEHS. Even for adults, genetics can effect the outcome.
"Two people with the same exposure won't have the same outcomes," she said.
For that reason, she advised residents to talk to their doctors and have them look at kidney and thyroid every year.
Some panelists said they grew up, moved away, but returned and cited Hoosick Falls as a safe community. Some shared stories of family members who died of cancer but had healthy lifestyles. Mothers said they were guilty for breastfeeding and possibly harming their babies. Teachers said students' stress affected them in the classroom.
Amy Bresse, of Hoosick, said her home had a POET installed in Februrary. But it hasn't been tested and she's received no information on maintenance. She called for a clean water source.
Emily Marpe became emotional as she described learning about PFOA in her well at what she thought was her dream home in Petersburgh. She described the shock and anxiety of learning how much PFOA was in her family members' blood, and researching science into the early mornign hours.
"I don't want my home," Marpe said. "It's not my home. It might as well belong to Taconic Plastics."
Clare Myers, a rising senior, and recent graduate Anna Wysocki described Hoosick as a close-knit community.
"This could happen anywhere. As awful as it is what happened here, its going to be worse if it happens again," Myers said.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979