HOOSICK FALLS, NY >> A U.S. senator is calling for more transparency from the current owner of a manufacturing facility suspected of contaminating the village water supply.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer is urging Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to agree to an "aggressive and comprehensive testing regime" to determine how far a toxic chemical has spread underground and "not to drag out the process via litigation, stalling and lack of transparency." He said it's essential the French multinational company cooperate with federal and state agencies and pledge its support for clean-up efforts.
"Saint-Gobain should be an open book when it comes to delineating the sources of contamination and an open check book when it comes to pollution clean-up, should that process clearly show them the responsible party," Schumer said in a recent statement.
According to one news report, Schumer had more to say after an event with the New York State Association of Counties on Monday in Albany.
"Saint-Gobain did this," Schumer is quoted saying to reporters in a Feb. 1 article appearing on the news website POLITICO New York. "They've got to first come clean as to what happened, where they put the stuff, and then work on a plan to quickly clean it up."
In a Jan. 28 letter to Thomas Kinisky, CEO and president of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, Schumer urged the company, which owns two properties in the village, to "maximally cooperate with all federal, state, and local stakeholders to address this situation."
"What [Schumer] said were serious allegations," Kinisky told the Banner in an interview Wednesday. "I take it in the spirit I think it was intended. I doubt he intended to make those serious allegations of a cover up."
Kinisky, who visited the facilities this week, said the company is "fully invested in the well-being of the village." He said the company has shown its support by paying for bottled water for residents and a filter for the public water supply, which serves some 4,900 people. The company is the village's largest employer — 200 people work at 14 McCaffrey St. and 1 Liberty St. Operations are expected to continue at both facilities, which were recently declared state Superfund sites.
"We don't know what the impact is going to be," Kinisky said.
In November, the EPA cautioned residents to not use the tap water because it contains Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a man-made chemical once used in manufacturing nonstick coatings and linked to cancer. Amid mounting concerns over health risks and other impacts on the village of 5,000, Gov. Andrew Cuomo established an action plan which classified PFOA as a hazardous substance and placed Saint-Gobain's sites on the state Superfund list.
Samples taken from groundwater at the McCaffrey Street site had PFOA levels 40 times higher than the EPA's "health advisory level" for short term use. But the company and the EPA says its unclear how it got there — EPA Regional Director Judith Enck told residents last month a full investigation is needed to determine how wide the groundwater contamination has spread and when it was released.
The Department of Environmental Conservation is in the third week of a field investigation to identify the contamination source, a spokesman said this week. The DEC is still investigating tips of illegal dumping in the village, but the department did not say what, if anything, has been found.
In his response to Schumer, Kinisky wrote the company is working promptly for the health and safety of Hoosick Falls and Saint-Gobain employees, many of whom live in the village, and requested more discussions with Schumer.
"Everybody is concerned and everybody is passionate about this issue," Kinisky said Wednesday. "From my point of view, all I can say is what we've done. We're being very open, proactive and transparent."
He said it's been on the company's radar from day one: Saint-Gobain, which has owned the sites since 1996, notified the EPA about contamination voluntarily in December 2014.
Saint-Gobain has owned the McCaffrey Street site since 1999. Kinisky, echoing the company's previous statements, said the facility never manufactured PFOA or another synthetic chemical, Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Kinisky said PTFE was used as a raw material in Hoosick Falls, where the company manufactures tapes, foams and insulation for wires.
Kinisky, who lives in Ohio, said he grew up 20 miles from Hoosick Falls and has "a soft spot" for the village and the water issue. Saint-Gobain has been around for 350 years and has pledged support to Hoosick Falls, he said.
"You don't get to be 350 years-old unless you have strong core values, and one of our core values is being a good corporate citizen," Kinisky said.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979