Corporate Pollution Poisons Upstate NY Town’s Water

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The New York Times today has a good recap of the situation in Hoosick Falls, New York, a small city outside Albany that has been contending with its own Flint-style water crisis. Hoosick Falls’ water was recently found to have elevated levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, a likely carcinogen.

The town of 3,500 was once home to several Teflon factories, and the New York Department Environmental Conservation alleged this month that a plant currently operated by Honeywell International is responsible for the perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) spike. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the plant’s previous owner, was also implicated in the state’s investigation.

The health consequences for residents don’t seem to be as dire as those in Flint, or not as apparent—no one has contracted Legionnaire’s disease and died in Hoosick Falls—but there is reason to believe the state didn’t act quite as quickly as it could have when it learned of the contamination, just like Michigan. From the Times:

Nearly a year and a half passed, for instance, from the time the chemical was discovered in the water — by a concerned resident — to the warning from state health officials that residents avoid drinking it.

In the interim, state and local officials assured the public on several occasions that the water was safe — most recently in December, even after the federal Environmental Protection Agency had recommended to the village’s mayor that residents avoid using Hoosick’s well water. Gov.Andrew M. Cuomo and other officials have defended their response, saying they have acted as aggressively as possible with the information they have — noting shifting federal standards on the contaminant, which is as yet unregulated.

But is it safe? No, probably not. Studies have shown that PFOA adversely affects the babies of pregnant mothers who ingest it, and the EPA found that exposure to PFOA causes liver tumors in lab rats. The agency has not made a firm ruling on whether the substance is carcinogenic to humans, but says that it is likely to be. Michael Hickey, the concerned citizen who first discovered the chemical, was prompted to investigate after his father died of kidney cancer.

The problem isn’t limited to Hoosick, either. As the Times notes, PFOA was found in the water this month in nearby Petersburgh and in North Bennington,just over the Vermont border.