Village awaits results of PFOA blood tests

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HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — A second round of blood testing has begun, and residents are hoping for one thing: reduced levels of the industrial chemical perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA.

"If mine [drops] by half, I would be pleasantly surprised," said Loreen Hackett, a Hoosick Falls resident for nearly her entire life.

Of more than 3,000 people in the area tested for PFOA contamination in the first round of testing in 2016, Hackett said the levels of PFOA in her blood were among the highest.

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International, two companies with current or former industrial operations here, have been designated responsible parties for contamination of the town's water with PFOA.

"It's a lot of fear," Hackett said. "It's a lot of wonder. If you're not sick, when will you get sick? It's like tobacco. One person can smoke their whole lives and be just fine. Another person's going to get lung cancer. You're in the same boat — will you? Won't you?"

Her 8-year-old, 6-year-old, and 4-month-old grandchildren also had very high PFOA levels when they were tested.

Among tested adults 18 and over who were served by the village's public water, the median blood level of PFOA was 58.9 micrograms per liter, according to New York Department of Health data. Among the general population in the U.S., that number is 2.07 micrograms.

The department of health is overseeing the testing.

As in the first round, the blood testing is open to anyone who has spent time in the village, the town of Hoosick or the nearby town of Petersburgh, regardless of where they currently live, said Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen.

PFOA was widely used for decades to manufacture products like Teflon, which in turn was used to coat wire, cookware, tapes and fabric.

PFOA and related industrial compounds have come under growing scrutiny as an emerging human health risk, linked to various cancers and other conditions like high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Some studies show that chemicals like PFOA may also affect growth, learning, behavior and the immune system, interfere with the body's natural hormones, increase cholesterol levels and lower a woman's chance of getting pregnant, the Banner previously reported.

Elevated levels of PFOA found in the village's groundwater supply in early 2015 led to the 3,500 residents being told late that year not to drink municipal water.

Filters were installed in the municipal water treatment plant as well as on private wells serving homes and businesses.

"We now need to have some piece of mind that yes, everything has been working," Allen said of the testing. "Just to know that our blood levels [of PFOA] are going down as planned."

In 2017, the Banner reported that a department of health investigation of cancer cases from 1995 to 2014 in the village did not find elevated rates for any types of cancer associated with PFOA, but the study did find more lung cancer cases than expected.

The study focused on observed cases of residents who lived in the census tract of Hoosick Falls when they were diagnosed.

It did not include cases in the town of Hoosick or the surrounding area, or cases diagnosed after a person moved away from Hoosick Falls.

The village, and some residents, are also inching forward in their efforts to recoup costs and damages related to the water contamination from Saint-Gobain and Honeywell.

The village board approved on June 25 a $195,000 settlement with Saint-Gobain and Honeywell for lost water and sewer fees stemming from residents' time using bottled water.

In February, the board accepted a $330,000 settlement to reimburse the village for engineering and other expenses, according to the village's website.

But that's not all the town is seeking.

"We need to talk some form of damages for what's happened, and what's transpired," Allen said. "To get the village back to being made whole."

Town officials are working to negotiate with Saint-Gobain and Honeywell on additional funds.

The village board previously declined to finalize two settlements with Saint-Gobain and Honeywell.

One was for $850,000, the other for $1.045 million. Both would have required the town to sign away its rights to sue for anything "related to PFOA," Allen said. "That's what made people so upset and frustrated about it."

The village board has previously voted to allow the town's environmental attorney to sue the companies, if necessary, he said.

"We're hoping that it doesn't come to that," Allen said. "That's a long, ugly process. But if that's what it takes, that's what it takes."

Some residents are also working with attorneys, including the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg.

The firm intends to file a motion for a class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents this coming January, said James Bilsborrow, an attorney with the firm. They're in the middle of the discovery phase of the process, he said.

The suit seeks a medical monitoring program, to be paid for by Saint-Gobain and Honeywell, to screen for PFOA-related health issues. It also seeks damages for property owners to recoup lost property value due to the contamination and damages for the nuisance caused by the contamination, he said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BEN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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