HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. >> Two state agencies have asked the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site, a potential source of a chemical that has contaminated the village's water supply, be among those added to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites.
The state has also called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lower the health advisory for the chemical, which has been linked to cancer and other diseases, and announced health officials will study cancer rates in the village and surrounding area.
The joint announcement, made by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Department of Health (DOH) Thursday afternoon, is the latest among efforts to address Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a manmade, toxic chemical once used to make non-stick coatings.
It also came just hours before a well-attended meeting in the village, hosted by local group Healthy Hoosick Water.
"A very detailed study of groundwater is needed in Hoosick Falls to know what we are dealing with and how to best address it," Judith Enck, regional administrator of EPA Region II, told a standing-room only crowd of hundreds in the high school auditorium.
Such an effort would take years, she said, but in the meantime, "providing safe drinking water has to be taken care of immediately."
Short and long term solutions
Residents should not drink the tapwater, Enck said, until a solution is in place.
Officials say a granulated activated carbon (GAC) filter would bring the chemical "below detactable levels." A temporary filter is expected to be online by Februrary, and a "permentant" filter by October.
Saint-Gobain has agreed to fund both projects and to continue paying for bottled water at the local Tops Friendly Market.
Enck said those who need more than five gallons a day should contact the village. She also said the company will pay to deliver water to seniors, people with disabilities and others who need it.
Residents packed the municipal building's meeting chambers Tuesday where they peppered village board members with questions. Among them, whether new wells should replace the three which lie some 500 yards from the Saint-Gobain site, where PFOA samples were 40 times greater than the EPA's recommended levels of 400 parts per trillion.
Enck told attendees that a full investigationis needed to determine the full extent of the PFOA "plume" in the groundwater.
Enck said the EPA doesn't believe PFOA, which is no longer used, was manufactured in the village. But the chemical was a component of the PTFE once used at 14 McCaffrey St. and 1 Liberty St.. Both are currently owned by the Saint-Gobain Corporation and Enck said, "it's quite possible other facilities in Hoosick Falls used it as well."
Eugene Leff, deputy commissioner of the state DEC, said the request to the EPA is the first step in starting a cleanup.
"Ultimately, the vast resources of the Superfund will be available," he said.
Walter Mugdan, the EPA's regional superfund director, said "an initial sampling program" would begin in a couple of months. It's a necessary step to support the site's inclusion among the 1,800 Superfund sites across the country. A final study would determine whether there are other contaminants in the water, where the water is going from and how it's spreading.
"Based on that, we'll have to look at how we will remediate this," he said. That multi-year process could mean cleaning up the water, stopping the plume from spreading or a combination of both, he said.
Nathan Graber, director of the Center for Environmental Health
said his department will continue to test residents' private wells and other local water systems.
His department will also conduct a study to examine PFOA levels in residents' blood, he said. And in response to concerns of increased rates of cancer, the department will delve deep into the state cancer registry to look at rates between 1995 to 2012, the most recent year the data is complete.
Numerous other questions were raised Thursday and speakers acknowledged the science is still developing. It's not clear whether the EPA's level is low enough.
"The EPA does not believe that skin contact with PFOA contaminated water is significant exposure," Enck said. But children or those with skin conditions, such as rashes, cuts and abrasions, should avoid long showers and baths.
Call for action
"As the government agencies charged with protecting public health and the environment, it is imperative that DOH, the [DEC], and the EPA work together on a full investigation of the nature and extent of PFOA contamination and, then, on any necessary cleanup," Basil Seggos, acting DEC commissioner, wrote in a letter Thursday to Enck.
The DEC and DOH have asked the EPA to "expeditiously list PFOA as a hazardous substance."
"We write to you because this is not just a local issue," Seggos and DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "The presence of PFOA in drinking water is an emerging nation-wide issue."
The letter refers to studies which suggest "the presence of PFOA in drinking water and groundwater may be more pervasive than originally thought and may subject people across the country to PFOA exposure."
"It's important that you stay informed and involved," Enck told attendees in her closing remarks. "Government needs to be transparent and responsive... [The EPA] will answer your questions, and quite frankly, we will tell you when we don't have the answers."
The EPA and Village websites have dedicated sections to the water issue with fact sheets, numbers residents should call to arrange private well testing and other information: www.epa.gov/aboutepa/hoosick-falls-water-contamination and www.villageofhoosickfalls.com/water.