HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y.— The village's tap water is once again safe to drink, state health officials announced Wednesday, four months after residents were first told not to because it was contaminated with a potentially harmful chemical.
PFOA was not detected in multiple tests of water samples taken from around the village since a filtration system was installed, according to the state Department of Health. Residents can now use the water for all uses including cooking, drinking and brushing their teeth.
Residents will still be provided bottled water until a "permanent" filter with a larger capacity is completed this fall. Meanwhile, filters are being installed at hundreds of nearby homes with private wells; the state is searching for a new water source for the village; and environmental investigators are probing potential sources of PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid.
"A difficult time"
In a letter on Wednesday, Health Commissioner Howard A. Zucker informed Village Mayor David Borge the "no-drink" advisory was lifted.
"DOH has tested and re-tested water throughout the village, answered more than 1,000 calls on our PFOA hotline, and provided the latest news and updates to residents through our informational sessions," Zucker said in a press release. "Today's news demonstrates the tremendous progress we have made, and I commend [Gov. Andrew Cuomo] for the commitment he has made to the residents, and for all the actions he has taken to resolve the contamination issue."
"Obviously I'm very pleased," Borge said in a phone interview with the Banner. "People have been working very hard on this. And it's been an extremely difficult time for the community. I hope they can now have confidence in the water system in this great community we have."
The state says the Saint-Gobain Corporation and Honeywell International are parties "potentially responsible" for the contamination. Saint-Gobain, with factories on Liberty and McCaffrey Street, is paying for bottled water and some $2 million for the filtration systems.
It's been a long haul for village residents. PFOA was first found in the municipal system in 2014. The man-made chemical was used to make Teflon for decades and studies link it with cancer and other diseases. The county and state health departments initially said the water was safe to drink. But in November, the federal Environmental Protection Agency recommended residents not use the tap water for drinking or cooking.
Residents have since expressed much frustration and deep concern over potential negative health effects experienced by family members, friends, neighbors and pets. Local physician Marcus Martinez founded the group Healthy Hoosick Water to raise awareness. A powerful lawfirm with ties to consumer and environmental advocate Erin Brockovich, who visited town with her legal team in late January, filed a class action lawsuit against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell. EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck said investigators need to nail-down the contamination source and how far PFOA has spread in the groundwater. Saint-Gobain's two local factories have been declared state Superfund sites. And PFOA has been found in North Bennington, Vt. and Petersburgh, prompting other communities in the tri-state area to test for it as well.
The granulated activated carbon (GAC) filters were found to be effective earlier this month. Filtered water was subsequently used to flush village water lines and residential plumbing of residual PFOA.
"We were sampling extensively during that time to make sure the distribution system was completely clear," DOH Spokesman James Plastiras wrote in an email Wednesday.
The feds call PFOA an "emerging contaminant" and don't require tests for it. The federal limit is 400 parts per trillion (ppt), but the EPA has reduced that to 100 ppt when talking about Hoosick Falls.
Before being piped to the roughly 4,500 users, water passes through two filters. Samples taken after water passes through the first filter have had non-detectable PFOA levels, or less than 2 ppt.
The distribution system was split into six "zones." Water samples were taken from municipal water tanks, taps in private residences and effluent from the GAC filter itself. The most recent samples taken between March 23 and 26 all had non-detectable PFOA levels.
For comparison, tests taken from the village's three wells last June showed PFOA levels as high as 662 ppt. Water from Saint-Gobain's McCaffrey Street property showed levels between 570 ppt and 18,000 ppt, 45 times higher than the federal limit.
"We never stopped"
Wednesday's announcement marked a "magnificent milestone" in efforts to address water contamination, Basil Seggos, acting commissioner for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, stated in a press release.
"DEC continues to install and sample water filtration systems on private wells and expects to provide clearance to homeowners to use the first systems for drinking and cooking this week," he said.
The water crisis has been the main focus of village officials' energy, Borge said, but other initiatives still have their attention. That includes Hoosick Rising, the economic development initiative in the village of Hoosick Falls and town of Hoosick, and the planned "Greenway Trail" expansion.
"We never stopped [working on those projects,]" Borge added.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979