HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — A new law that extends the time limit for injury claims related to pollution is being called a victory for the village and other communities affected by water contamination.
The new law gives people exposed to hazardous substances three years from the time a site is given a "Superfund" designation to file personal injury lawsuits. Individuals previously had to file lawsuits within three years from the time they became sick.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, which was driven by the local water crisis, on Thursday.
Resident Michele Baker said the bill passage was bittersweet and noted residents are still facing effects of drinking contaminated water. But she thanked Cuomo and legislators for standing up for communities facing pollution.
"We've accomplished so much in a short amount of time," she told the Banner on Thursday. "Now, folks can get what they deserve from polluters."
Residents will still have to prove that exposure to chemicals like PFOA, which turned up in local water supplies, led to them becoming sick, according to Edward Gorman, an attorney in the village.
"But residents now have an opportunity to pursue their legal rights and remedies," he said.
Baker acknowledged litigation and the court system will be "a long road."
"But I'm hopeful this will be a path for justice for individuals stricken by drinking contaminated water," she said. "Some have an illness and face medical bills, some can't go to work, they have a whole host of financial problems. This will help them take care of their families."
State Sen. Kathleen Marchione, R-Halfmoon, and Assemblymember John McDonald III, D-Cohoes, introduced the measure in February in response to water contamination in the village of Hoosick Falls.
Marchione said in a statement that she was thrilled the bipartisan measure was passed, calling it "a real victory for families in Hoosick Falls, Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, Newburgh and any other community where a Superfund site is declared."
"This new state law means residents in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and elsewhere will now receive more time to have their day in court and fully pursue civil justice," she stated.
PFOA, a man-made chemical formerly used to make Teflon, turned up in the municipal water system and nearby private wells. Studies have linked PFOA exposure to increased risk of thyroid, testicular and kidney cancers, high blood pressure and other diseases.
The new law is a boost to people whose cases would have otherwise been dismissed from court, according to Robin Greenwald, head of the Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit at Weitz & Luxenberg. The New York City firm is representing Hoosick-area residents in one of three class-action lawsuits against two companies.
"It's a tremendous thing for the entire state," she added.
The state in January classified Saint-Gobain Performance Plastic's McCaffrey Street plant as a Class 2 Superfund site. Saint-Gobain and Honeywell have since signed consent orders with the state Department of Environmental Conservation which hold them responsible for contamination at McCaffrey Street and several other sites where PFOA may have been used. Taconic Plastics in Petersburgh was declared a Class 2 site in March.
Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.