Assembly member criticizes NY Department of Health on water contamination issue

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HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y.>> A State Assembly member is criticizing the New York Department of Health for how it has handled the village's water contamination issue.

In a statement released this week, Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin, R-Schaghticoke, accused the DOH of denying that the water was a threat to residents' health, and for later reversing its stance when it told residents not to cook with or drink the tap water.

McLaughin described a "troubling" discrepancy between the federal Environmental Protection Agency and DOH regulations for levels of PFOA that are safely consumable by humans and, calling upon DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker for answers. He also expressed concern over news reports that information on private well contaminations was not released to the public.

"Residents deserve answers and someone must be held accountable," McLaughlin wrote in a statement Wednesday. "What did the [DOH] and the governor know and when did they know it? At minimum, these questions should be asked. At most, an investigation should be opened."

But a DOH spokesman said the department never reversed its stance and that McLaughlin is "unfortunately misinformed" on the issue.

"DOH has consistently said, since this situation came to light, that although adverse health effects are not expected to occur from normal use of the water (based on a standard, valid risk assessment) residents should take steps to minimize their exposure to PFOA," Spokesman James Plastiras said.

The EPA's "provisional health advisory" for PFOA, a man-made chemical once used to make nonstick cookware, is 400 parts per trillion, but testing showed the village water system serving some 4,900 people had up to 670. Saint-Gobain's site at 14 McCaffrey St. had levels 40 times greater than the advisory, but officials say they aren't sure that property is the source.

The EPA is considering making the area a Superfund site, which would require the company responsible for the bulk of the pollution to fund a clean-up.

McLaughlin said Zucker, "epitomizing the Cuomo administration's lack of transparency and accountability," avoided questions on the water issue during Tuesday's budget hearing, and "had his staff shield him from an onslaught of reporters after his testimony ended."

But the DOH took issue with McLaughlin's account of the incident. According to Plastiras, Zucker was giving budget testimony and was not asked about the budget, and a single reporter asked Zucker about Hoosick Falls after the budget hearing.

"Both the commissioner, and a DOH staff person answered the reporter's question," Plastiras wrote.

The DOH "immediately began working with all parties in a collaborative manner to address the problem and reduce the risk to the public," according to Plastiras.

The agency has assisted with choosing an effective treatment system, bringing a temporary system online before a larger one is completed and has continued to test public and private wells.

Experts will also study cancer incidences among village residents and measure PFOA levels in residents' blood.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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