HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. >> Residents concerned over long-lasting effects from drinking contaminated water are considering pursuing legal action.
Attorneys with two law firms — one with ties to well-known consumer and environmental advocate Erin Brokovitch — said they've spoken to residents about bringing suits against one or more companies believed to be responsible for contaminating groundwater with Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Both attorneys said although high levels of PFOA was found on property owned by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, detailed studies are needed to find the full extent of contamination and to determine what companies would be responsible for cleaning it up.
David A. Engel, an attorney with Nolan & Heller, said many questions could be answered if two factories are added to the list of Superfund cleanup sites, which the state requested this week.
"It will be the responsibility of Saint-Gobain and its predecessors to bear the cost of dealing with the contamination," Engel, who specialized in environmental law and represents local group Healthy Hoosick Water, told the Banner Friday. "Those costs should not fall upon those who fell victims of this contamination."
Engel said his firm has taken many phone calls from residents and concerned citizens who believe the contamination caused an illness to them or family members. Individuals have also told Engel about activities at local facilities, including dumping of waste, which may have contributed to the contamination.
"We're looking into it both on personal injury grounds as well as a property value issue," said William A. Walsh, an attorney with Weitz & Luxenberg who's working on the case with colleague Robin Greenwald.
He said in addition to long-term exposure being linked to an increased chance of kidney cancer, testicular cancer and thyroid disease, PFOA contamination could result in a significant decline in home values, anywhere from 20 to 50 percent.
Walsh said Weitz & Luxenberg became involved after residents contacted Brokovitch, who is a consultant to the firm.
The man-made chemical, also known as C8, was the subject of lawsuits against DuPont, which used PFOA in making nonstick coatings.
Last year, an Ohio federal jury awarded one plaintiff $1.6 million in compensation on her negligence and emotional distress claims against DuPont. The plaintiff alleged she developed kidney cancer from drinking water contaminated with PFOA and that DuPont was responsible for the groundwater contamination. More than 3,500 personal injury cases arising from PFOA exposure are pending in Ohio.
In Hoosick Falls, PFOA samples from village wells exceeded the EPA's guideline of 400 parts-per-trillion for short-term exposure, which an increasing number of scientists and health officials say isn't strict enough.
Samples from beneath the 6.4 acre Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site at 14 McCaffrey St., a property the company has owned since the 1990s, showed PFOA levels up to 40 times greater than the EPA's guideline.
It's unclear, according to EPA Regional Director Judith Enck and others who spoke at a packed meeting in the village Thursday night, when the chemical was released into the environment, how far it's spread in the groundwater and how long residents were drinking contaminated water.
The state departments of health and environmental conservation called on the EPA Thursday to place two sites on the Superfund list: The McCaffrey Street site, which lies about 500 yards away from three public wells serving some 4,500 users, and an 11.4 acre site across the Hoosick River at 1 Liberty St.
A Saint-Gobain spokeswoman said that "while the facility never produced or manufactured PFOA, the manufacturing processes at the facility did use raw materials containing PFOA."
"We are aware of the potential for litigation involving this issue, but we remain focused on working with the Village of Hoosick Falls and the appropriate state and federal government agencies to find solutions," Spokeswoman Dina Pokedoff wrote in an email Friday.
She said the company "is committed to the Hoosick Falls community" and is working with the state and village to fund a temporary and permanent filter system.
Water from the public water system should not be used for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth or to fill humidifiers, according to the latest round of recommendations from the EPA.
The EPA doesn't believe the chemical is easily absorbed through the skin, but encourages individuals to limit bathing, especially young children, the elderly and those with skin conditions or cuts. They also recommend opening a window to reduce the amount of steam people absorb.
The state requested both sites be placed on the Superfund list. The state's Department of Health has also said it will continue testing public and private wells, as well as begin studying incidents of cancer and testing resident's blood.
To have a private well tested, email email@example.com or call the state DOH at 518-402-7860.
For more information, visit www.EPA.gov/aboutEPA/Hoosick-Falls-water-contamination, or www.villageofhoosickfalls.com/water.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979