Saint-Gobain to upgrade Hoosick Falls treatment plant to remove contaminant

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HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — A corporation that owns a local manufacturing facility says it will pay to upgrade the village's water treatment plant, a move that aims to remove a contaminant found in the public water supply last year.

The Saint-Gobain Corporation has agreed to fund a filtration system that would remove perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, according to Mayor David Borge. In the meantime, the company is considering building a temporary system and could soon offer bottled water to the public.

The French company is the owner of the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics at 14 McCaffrey St., which makes tapes and foams, and employs about 190 people.

It's been just over a year since PFOA, a carcinogen believed to cause some types of cancers, was first discovered in the village water supply. It's used in manufacturing non-stick coatings for cookware and waterproof, breathable membranes for clothing.

Since then, PFOA levels in groundwater at the Saint-Gobain site were found to be up to 45 times higher than what the federal government recommends.

Borge said the village water system is in full compliance at the county, state and federal level.

"In fact, we exceed most of them," he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Water will continue to flow from the public water system. Saint-Gobain will soon make bottled water available to those who would prefer it over tap water, he said.

It was not clear when bottled water would be made available and efforts to reach a Saint-Gobain spokesperson on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The upgrades to the water treatment plant were previously reported to cost about $2 million.

Residents have called for more transparency from both the village and Saint-Gobain, and expressed concerns over the contaminant. Possible health effects of PFOA that are often cited include kidney and testicular cancer, and thyroid disease.

A group called Healthy Hoosick Water, led by physician Marcus Martinez, was established. Also created was a Facebook page, PFOA in Hoosick Falls.

"There has to be a legally, enforceable agreement among all of the stakeholders," attorney David Engel of Albany's Nolan & Heller, LLP, representing Healthy Hoosick Water, told the Banner on Tuesday. "We're going to continue with our efforts until we arrive at a legally sufficient and comprehensive resolution."

PFOA is not one of the 90 contaminants regulated under the Safe Water Drinking Act, the main federal law meant to ensure drinking water quality.

It's categorized as an "emerging contaminant" by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "a chemical or material that is characterized by a perceived, potential, or real threat to human health or the environment or by a lack of published health standards."

It's also one of 100 chemicals and 12 microbes on the EPA's Contaminant Candidate List that are known to be in public water supplies but are not regulated.

In 2009, the EPA established a "provisional health advisory" that limits the amount of PFOA in drinking water to 400 parts per trillion.

Samples taken last October, requested by the village, were found to have PFOA levels between 170 and 540 parts per trillion. In response, a well that had served as the prime water supply was replaced with another.

Additional samples taken from the public water supply in June were found to have PFOA levels as high as 662 ppt.

Saint-Gobain voluntarily informed the EPA of the contaminant's presence through a letter that was hand-delivered to the EPA's Washington, D.C. headquarters in December of 2014,

An attorney representing the company wrote that the Hoosick Falls facility processes things that were made with PFOA, "but it is not and never has been a manufacturer, processor, distributor or user of PFOA per se anywhere in the United States" and had participated in a voluntary industry phase-out effort by purchasing raw materials with decreasing levels of PFOA as an ingredient.

Recent tests done at five wells dug at the Saint-Gobain property showed PFOA levels between 570 ppt and 18,000 ppt. The latter level is 45 times higher than the EPA's advisory level of 400 ppt.

Dina Silver Pokedoff, a spokeswoman based in Saint-Gobain's headquarters in Malvern, Pa., confirmed recently that the company is in talks with the village "about appropriate water treatment options, including the activated carbon water treatment system that village officials have identified as their preferred solution for this issue."

"As members of this community, we have been and remain committed to coordinating with Village officials to find a solution to this problem," she wrote in an email last week. "We live and work here and we will work with the community to find a solution to this issue."

The contaminant has not been found in the Hoosick Falls Central School District water supply. That system, drawing from two wells on the school's campus, serves some 1,600 individuals, according to the state, and is independent from any municipal system. Water testing done earlier this year found negligible PFOA levels of fewer than 2.24 ppt, according to a message on the district's website.

Borge said representatives from Saint-Gobain, including Business Manager Philip Guy from the local plant, gave a very positive presentation on Nov. 10.

Borge acknowledged that the EPA is in a data gathering phase to determine whether to create a standard for how much PFOA is allowed in a water supply.

"We won't have to wait [for a standard to be created]," Borge said. "We will go forward with the filtration system that we know for a fact will work."

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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