HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — Rensselaer County residents faced with contamination from PFOA got two pieces of good news this week.
The State Assembly announced that it will hold hearings this fall on the water contamination issue. And in a separate announcement, they learned Senator Kirsten Gillibrand would visit the community later this week.
The Hoosick Falls Central School District will host Gillibrand at a public roundtable discussion this Friday, July 8 at 2:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.
The previously scheduled meeting coincides with what many Hoosick Falls residents are calling on social media a major victory: Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie announced hearings this September will review the causes and response to water contamination.
"Recent reports of water contamination in municipalities across the state have highlighted the need for a thorough review of measures to ensure clean and healthy water in our communities," Heastie said in a press release issued on Wednesday evening. "Ensuring a safe water supply for our children and families is a top priority for us."
Legislators and residents have long called for Assembly hearings and other action. Gillibrand was one of three lawmakers who recently urged federal health agencies to provide residents with more educational resources of the potentially harmful chemical.
"Senator Gillibrand will hear from citizens of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh regarding how the PFOA contamination has personally impacted their lives," a press release from the school district stated.
In a June 24 letter to the Center for Disease Control and National Institute of Health, Gillibrand, along with Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Chris Gibson, asked the agency directors to "prioritize PFOA contamination prevention and response activities." The letter also outlined actions taken since the regional EPA issued an order in November to halt drinking or cooking with municipal water. Companies responsible for the contamination have installed water filtration systems on homes and businesses. The state declared areas in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh as Superfund sites. And tests found Hoosick area-residents have elevated PFOA blood levels.
"These victims are justifiable concerned, but not enough information has been disseminated to put this severe level of PFOA into context," the letter states.
The letter calls for public meetings and access to health experts and scientists to create "relevant online information sources" to provide the "best, most up-to-date information."
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. In Vermont, it turned up in North Bennington and Pownal.
The man-made chemical was used for decades to make Teflon before it was largely phased out. It's been linked to cancer and other diseases.
Residents of the three small communities have been outspoken over the contamination issue. Social media campaigns have called out Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state health officials and allege they ignored the issue for 18 months.
The hearings will take place in Albany and Suffolk Counties, according to a joint announcement from Heastie, Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright and Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried. Legislators will "review the causes and response to the known contaminations as well as measures to prevent future occurrences."
"Ensuring the safety of drinking water in this state is paramount," Gottfried said in the release. "We're going to examine the issue of water contamination and assess our current laws and public policies on these matters, and how they're working, to protect public access to safe, clean water."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979