Hoosick Falls, N.Y. residents will wait for water bill refunds

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HOOSICK FALLS, NY — Residents who were told for months not to drink contaminated tap water will have to wait for a refund on their bills.

The municipality has not received $240,000 Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised two months ago, according to Village Mayor David Borge, meaning the municipality can't reimburse water users.

"We can't give out what we don't have," Borge said during Tuesday's Village Board meeting.

And while state health officials say there's no health risk from PFOA in pool water, residents aren't so sure.

Refunds were among several announcements Cuomo made March 13 in his first trip to the village since the EPA issued a no-drink order in November. The governor's office stated each water user would be refunded half of their bills, representing a total of $240,000.

"I've spoken with representatives from the governor's office and we're working out details (on refunds)," Borge said.

Funding for rebates is one piece of a consent order with two companies potentially responsible for contaminating water with PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, a spokesperson for the governor's office said Wednesday. Officials are "working aggressively with the parties," he said, and hope to have a signed agreement soon. It's unclear how many months customers will be reimbursed and whether the refunds will be for the full amount or half. Predecessors of both Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International used PFOA, a chemical involved with making the nonstick coating Teflon, in various village factories for decades, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). In January, the DEC declared Saint-Gobain's McCaffrey Street plant as a state Superfund. In February, the agency demanded both companies enter legally binding consent orders to make them reimburse the state for costs already incurred for the response and a full clean-up. The federal EPA has its own investigation and could declare the village a federal Superfund site.

Attorneys for the village are also negotiating with the companies. Borge said he fully expects the village to be fully reimbursed for costs of hiring attorneys, communications specialists and engineers.

It will take about 30 days for the village to issue refund checks once the state distributes the funds, Borge said. In the meantime, "people need to continue to pay their bills." Borge said income from water and sewer fees is down because residents were only drinking and cooking with bottled water for four months.

"That's a loss to the community that residents should not have to take on," Borge said, noting the need for maintenance on the water distribution system and repair to 11 fire hydrants.

Swimming pools and hot tubs were also subjects of frustration at the well-attended meeting.

Lloyd Wilson with the state Department of Health said water from several pools was tested. All contained PFOA below the federal advisory level of 400 parts per trillion (ppt). A toxicologist evaluated the risk, he said, and concluded there is no health issue associated with water in swimming pools and hot tubs.

"The word is go out and enjoy the pools," he said.

Jim Quinn with the DEC said his agency already has guidelines for chlorinated pool water, which could kill microorganisms in the environment. He said if owners drain their pool, water should be directed into a sanitary sewer, not a storm drain, so it enters a wastewater treatment plant, or pumped into a tanker truck.

A DOH fact sheet on pools and hot tubs was issued this week and is on the village website. Both men said there were no plans for testing more pool water.

Resident Silvia Potter expressed concern over swimming in water containing PFOA, noting the EPA recommended people avoid long showers and other exposure via skin. She questioned how much chlorine would be left when pools are uncovered this spring and said she was concerned over young children who may swallow pool water containing PFOA.

Wilson said the most concerning exposure is by drinking and called dermal absorption "basically non-existent."

Resident Kevin Allard remarked there's a certain level of mistrust from residents towards health officials given that "in December, you told people it was safe to drink."

Borge, thanking Quinn and Wilson, asked they tell their supervisors the proposed plan for pools and hot tubs does not go far enough and more concrete actions are required.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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