Assembly to examine Hoosick Falls water contamination at hearings


HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — As state and local officials question the response to the contamination of the village's water supply with a potentially cancer-causing chemical, the state Assembly has scheduled hearings on water quality throughout New York.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly will hold the hearings in April, in response to a bipartisan call for lawmakers to look into what critics have called a slow response to the discovery of perfluorooctanoic acid in water samples from wells the village uses to supply its water system. But while the office of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said the hearings will take a general look at water quality and aging infrastructure, Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, R-Schaghticoke, whose district includes the village, welcomed the opportunity to look into the response first by village officials and then by the state Health Department.

"Protecting the safety of New Yorkers and monitoring governmental oversight is a unifying issue," McLaughlin said Thursday in a news release. "The people of Hoosick Falls deserve clean water, but they also deserve the truth. These hearings will shed light on who knew what, and when they knew it."

PFOA is a toxic chemical used for decades primarily to make Teflon coating for cookware. Samples from the village water system, which serves about 4,900 people, had PFOA levels that exceeded the EPA's provisional health advisory of 400 parts per trillion in each liter of water. Some studies have linked PFOA to certain types of cancer, and the EPA is considering regulating it under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The state Health Department initially declared village water safe to drink, but the EPA recommended in December that it not be used for cooking or drinking because of the presence of PFOA. The federal agency also recommended that private well owners have their water tested for contamination, as well.

Among the questions being asked by village residents are when local officials first became aware of the problem and when they first informed residents and why the state Health Department suddenly changed course and declared the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant on McCaffrey Street as a state Superfund site only after the federal Environmental Protection Agency came in.

"In April, we're going to look at how to make sure something like this does not happen again," Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, said Thursday. "I think that this will be beneficial in figuring out this problem."

McLaughlin has been especially critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration for failing to even acknowledge the problem initially.

"We have the right to know why the state first determined that there were no expected health effects from normal use of the water supply, and then just weeks later announce the area would become a state Superfund site because the water is so badly contaminated," McLaughlin said. "Whether this is gross mismanagement, incompetence or a cover-up, the truth will be exposed and residents will have answers."

Documents recently made public indicate village officials were aware of possible contamination as early as the spring of 2014, but critics say the village was slow to acknowledge the problem and inform the public. Village officials deny any effort to cover up the problem and say they shared information with the public as soon as they received it.

While the Assembly has scheduled hearings, McLaughlin said state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-East Northport, has chosen to not follow suit.

"I strongly urge and am hopeful that Sen. Flanagan will correct course, join Speaker Heastie and the Assembly and hold hearings on this critical issue," McLaughlin said. "It's the right thing to do and in the best interest of the health, safety and well-being of New Yorkers."

Mark Robarge can be reached at 518-290-8362.


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