ALBANY, N.Y.—Federal regulators said Sept. 7 that they have proposed designating part of an upstate New York village as a Superfund site for cleanup.
The announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency came as New York lawmakers were questioning state authorities about their response to the toxic chemical PFOA contaminating drinking water in Hoosick Falls and about water pollution in other communities.
Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos told the joint Senate-Assembly hearing that they now have rapid response teams to address problems.
“Clean water is crucial to public health, the economy and the environment,” Seggos said. Often authorities don’t learn the full impact of pollution until long after it’s been dumped, he said.
Their agencies are overseeing testing and cleanup, which includes carbon filtration systems to remove PFOA from the municipal water system, 830 private wells and the public school.
Health officials said their testing finally showed the contamination from perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, was actually in the groundwater. It was used for decades in the manufacture of Teflon and other nonstick coatings but was phased out after being linked to cancer and other ills.
The Department of Environmental Conservation, which in January designated parts of the village a state Superfund site, is holding St. Gobain Performance Plastics and its plant’s predecessor, Honeywell International, liable for cleanup costs. The state agency asked the federal EPA in January to do the same, intending to co-ordinate cleanup efforts as they have at other polluted industrial sites, Seggos said.
Residents of Hoosick Falls, located about 30 miles northeast of Albany, have complained that the Cuomo administration took too long to warn people about their water and that the federal EPA had finally advised against drinking it in December.
Zucker said Wednesday that the PFOA levels measured in Hoosick Falls’ water were 600 parts per trillion, higher than the EPA’s guideline of 400 ppt for short-term exposure. However, the state health department still believed the health risk was low and that there was a large margin of protection in the guidelines. But it went ahead with measures that have removed measurable amounts of PFOA from the public water supply.
Dr. Howard Freed, former director of the state Health Department’s Center for Environmental Health, submitted testimony saying there’s decades-old institutional culture at the department among competent, experienced scientists that consistently minimizes health risks and emphasizes uncertainty in studies. “Unfortunately, always minimizing the risk of ingesting toxins in drinking water is a pattern of behaviour doomed to fail the people of New York,” he wrote.