HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — The Hoosick area received some good news concerning PFAS contamination this week when state officials presented the results of emissions testing at the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics factory on McCaffrey Street.
Officials briefed members of the Hoosick Area Community Participation Work Group Wednesday on testing residents had requested to determine whether the operation represents a continuing airborne source of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) or similar toxic chemicals.
The industrial substance was detected in elevated to high levels five years ago in village and town wells and is now the focus a regionwide cleanup and remediation effort.
The bottom line, officials told the group, was that factory exhaust testing in March found no release of PFOA or any related PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals associated with contamination of the village well-water system and hundreds of private wells in the Hoosick area.
Sean Mahar, chief of staff with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation; Thomas Gentile, chief of Toxic Section of the DEC's Division of Air Resources, and other state officials gave a presentation on the testing data, which was expected to be posted to a DEC website following comments from the citizen group
Hoosick Town Supervisor Mark Surdam, a member of the group selected to be liaison between state and federal agencies and the communities during the remediation process, urged posting of the test report because of its positive nature.
"This is all positive information that should be released to the community," he said.
Another group member, Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen, said the results should be welcome news for area residents, who've endured a series of shocks since in recent years as the extent of contamination attributed to several former industrial operations or dump sites sunk into the public consciousness.
"To me, this is a big deal," Allen said, adding, "Those chemicals are not coming out of the [McCaffrey Street plant] stacks."
"I have to tell you what a relief it is," said work group member Loreen Hackett, whose family has experienced several of the medical conditions associated with PFAS exposure.
Hackett said her stomach "was in knots" while awaiting the emissions test results, and particularly on the way to the briefing at Hoosick Falls Central School. "So thank you for this good news," she said.
Elevated blood levels
PFAS substances have been detected in the blood of numerous area residents who drank contaminated water over the years or were otherwise exposed. Local drinking water supplies are now being filtered for PFAS while options for securing permanent access to clean drinking water are being studied.
PFOA was associated through a medical study involving some 70,000 Ohio Valley residents with kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
Health officials say that blood levels decline only slowly over many years and recommend continued medical monitoring.
Sensitive test equipment
The DEC officials said this week that highly sensitive emissions testing systems were used over two days at the McCaffey Street plant and did not detect PFOA or the other related PFAS substances that have contaminated soils and groundwater here, in Hoosick and in the Petersburgh area around a different factory site.
They added that current operations at the Saint-Gobain factory also involve different processes and use different and more refined materials than were often used in the past. Those differ from legacy operations involving PTFE, or polytetrafluorethylene (commonly referred to by the brand name Teflon), here and in Bennington, Vermont, at former ChemFab Corp. factories.
Now, highly refined PTFE powder is heated slowly at lower temperatures, officials said, to form billets, which are then sold to vendors. The products at the McCaffrey Street plant are primarily intended for use in specialized tapes.
The emissions report conclusively determined that PFOA was not present in emissions, the state officials said, and that no other long-chain legacy perfluorinated carboxylic acids were found. Overall, they said, the results indicate extremely low emissions from PTFE sintering oven process operations at the facility.
Saint-Gobain, a multi-national corporation, acquired the Bennington plant in 2000 and moved that operation to Merrimack, New Hampshire, in 2002, and also purchased the McCaffrey Street plant during the same period.
In Bennington, as an example, operations at that time involved coating fiberglass fabric with liquid Teflon (containing PFOA) and drying it on at high temperature, resulting in dispersal through the factory stacks over a wide area.
From there, environmental officials said, it worked its way into soils and into the groundwater and eventually wells.
Gentile said the testing, conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Research and Development, showed that the amount of material coming out the McCaffrey Street exhaust vents was free of the substances cited in the contamination of local water supplies.
The DEC officials said the EPA equipment has the ability to perform PFAS emissions analysis using state-of-the- art laboratory instrumentation and techniques to qualitatively identify in emissions any PFAS and the thermal decomposition products of PTFE.
Two different collection methods were utilized, the officials said, along with a high resolution chemical ionization mass spectrometer, which was used as a real-time emissions characterization monitor during the sampling event.
This allowed observation of changes in emissions as the temperature of the factory's sintering ovens increased. Sintering is basically formation of a solid material through heat or pressure without melting it to the point it becomes a liquid.
The EPA laboratory analyzed the emissions for a full suite of PFAS, PTFE decomposition products from the process, and for volatile organic compounds, which also includes fossil fuels, benzene and other materials. VOCs were detected at "unremarkable" levels and not considered a concern.
Gentile said the weight of the material coming into the plant as a powder and the finished product going out in the test to vendor companies was virtually the same.
Emission testing was conducted over the course of the typical 70-hour heating cycle at the McCaffrey Street plant. The entire sintering process is approximately 121 hours, and the emission testing ended as the maximum oven temperature hold times started to decrease, officials said.
The Hoosick Falls test began at noon on March 19 and ended at noon on March 22.
Dina Pokedoff, director of communications for Saint-Gobain, said Thursday in a release, "We are aware that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation presented the results of the air emissions testing at [the] Community Public Work Group meeting. According to NYSDEC's review, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is in compliance with all applicable air standards. Additionally, according to the report, PFOA, as well as other PFAS compounds such as PFOS, PFBS, etc., were conclusively not present in any emissions."
She added, "We are committed to the wellbeing of the communities in which we operate, and participated in the study voluntarily, in order to help advance the [EPA's] Office of Research and Development study."
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien