Students call on governor to act on contaminated water

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HOOSICK FALLS >> Students at Hoosick Falls Central School added their voices Friday to the controversy over the contamination of the village water supply, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to "keep your promise" and help the village.

At a morning news conference in the school auditorium, a dozen student leaders spoke to the entire junior-senior high school student body and demanded four steps be taken by Cuomo and his administration to address the presence of high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, a cancer-causing chemical, in the three wells that provide water to the village:

— Find a new source for the village's drinking water that is free of all traces of PFOA

— Demand that Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell Internation — identified by state and federal officials as the companies responsible for the contamination — immediately sign a consent order that would allow the village to seek out that source and have it ready to supply the village water system within a year

— Include money in the upcoming state budget to pay for that work, with the state later collecting the cost from the two companies

— Connect the school campus to the village water system after the source is moved to protect it from future contamination

"We believe we have waited long enough," said student Stephanie Merwin. "We need an immediate solution. We need an immediate plan. The answer is a new water source, and the time to do it is now.

"This is not a selfish request; it is a moral imperative. Please let our voices be heard. Governor, as our lobbyist, please keep your promise."

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 and that private well owners have their water tested for contamination. After the EPA stepped in, the state proclaimed the Saint-Gobain plant on McCaffrey Street as a Superfund site, eligible for state and federal assistance in cleanup efforts. But students warned that only a small number of Superfund sites have seen any activity.

"Superfund status does not guarantee a safe solution," said student Jeff Brewer.

Documents recently made public indicate village officials may have been 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.

"To this day, no village official has said the water is not safe to drink," said student Will Clifford, "and to this date, no village official has offered a safe alternative."

The students said they wrote to their local representatives at both the state and federal level, asking that they push Cuomo to act quickly and decisively, but so far have only received responses from state Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, and U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook.

"If the governor won't come to us and give us the solution we need, we will go to him," pledged student Jocelyn Harwood.

Superintendent Kenneth Facin said the district is going to install a carbon filtration system similar to one that will be installed at the village water treatment plant, but students said they could not accept that as a permanent solution.

"We need unquestionably clear water to make us feel safe again," Brewer concluded.

Mark Robarge can be reached at 290-8362.


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