Assembly to hold hearings on water-quality issues in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh

by Nicholas Buonanno, originally posted on July 7, 2016


After dealing with water-quality issues in the village of Hoosick Falls and in the town of Petersburgh for months, the state Assembly announced late Wednesday afternoon it will finally have public hearings on the matter in September.

The Assembly originally planned to have hearings in April, but those hearings were postponed.

“I have been calling for legislative hearings for months, but there is still time for the state Senate to do the right thing and join our efforts to find answers,” Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, R-Schaghticoke, said in a news release. “If for 18 months someone ignored telling New Yorkers they were drinking toxic water and then expected not to be investigated, exposed or held accountable, they’re delusional because that’s criminal.”

Residents of Hoosick Falls are also being asked to limit their water use due to a problem at its water treatment plant.

Hoosick Falls Mayor David Borge says contractors broke wires in part of the plant, and that caused an electrical short.

“While proceeding with the construction for the full capacity GAC system, one of the contractors was breaking up concrete and according to original planning documents, there were no electrical lines in the concrete,” said Borge. “This proved not to be the case and all electrical service to the pumps and wells was lost. This occurred on Tuesday and crews worked through the evening to set up a temporary fix was has been effective. On Wednesday, crews began working on a permanent fix and that is expected to be operational on Friday. There never was a loss of water. Existing storage tanks held more than enough GAC filtered water. As a precaution, water restrictions were put in place and once the permanent fix is ready, we will reassess the situation and notify the public accordingly.”

Although the village has installed a temporary fix, residents have been asked to limit non-critical city water use until the problem is permanently solved.

The problem is expected to be fixed by Friday, when U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will take part in a roundtable discussion of the ongoing water contamination crisis with area residents.

Borge said that he is hopeful that these scheduled hearings will help clear things up for residents of the village.

“Many local residents have vocalized their desire for these hearings to be held so they could learn more about the Agencies’ communications and response,” said Borge. “Of course, the information the Village received from county, state and federal health officials, and the actions the Village took as a result, have been well documented and widely reported. The challenge was figuring out what measures to take to address contamination of a chemical that was not considered to be hazardous by either state or federal Agencies. This led to confusing and contradictory information amongst the Agencies, and the Village was left to navigate the situation on its own. We are hopeful legislative hearings will result in the development of clear guidance to localities that discover contamination of non-regulated chemicals in their communities in the future, so communities don’t have to contend with the situation Hoosick Falls found itself in.”

The state Health Department detected significant levels of perfluorooctanoic acid in samples of both raw and treated water in the system in Petersburgh. Samples taken in the beginning of the year from the Hoosick Falls water system, which serves about 4,900 people, had PFOA levels that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s provisional health advisory of 400 parts per trillion in each liter of water.

PFOA is a toxic chemical used for decades primarily to make Teflon coating for cookware. Some studies have linked PFOA to certain types of cancer, and the EPA is considering regulating it under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

“We are happy that the Assembly Committees on Health and Environmental Conservation will be holding hearings to not only examine the quality of New York’s drinking water, but to find out why it took so long for government agencies to act,” Liz Moran, water & natural resources associate at Environmental Advocates of New York, said in a news release. “Everyone has a right to drink water without worrying that what comes from the tap could make them seriously ill. For the residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Newburgh, that right has been violated. Just as they fought for clean and safe water to drink, they have now raised their voices to demand answers so that other communities don’t go through what they have. All New Yorkers owe them a huge debt of gratitude that hearings will be held and as a result, the necessary standards put in place to ensure that we all have access to clean, safe drinking water.”

McLaughlin also believes that the residents of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh did a good job to continue to voice their concerns about the water-quality issues with state officials.

“The people of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh should be proud of their efforts and pressure they applied to make these hearings become a reality,” he said in the release. “This is the first but very crucial step to find out who knew what, and when. This crisis has been nothing but a political hot potato for [Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s] administration and the state Senate. If they want to avoid further embarrassment, I hope both parties will participate and cooperate in these hearings. I look forward to participating in these hearings as I have a multitude of questions that need answers from the Cuomo administration. I applaud and thank Speaker Heastie for following through on his promise and caring about the people of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh.”

Last month, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook asked the Oversight Committee, which serves as the investigatory side of the House, to look into the response by state and federal officials to drinking water contamination.

The Oversight Committee did recently send letters to Gov. Cuomo and the Environmental Protection Agency requesting any and all information related to PFOA contamination in Hoosick Falls.

“I concur with the concern shown by the Oversight Committee regarding the state and federal response to water contamination in my district,” Gibson said in a news release. “There has been a general lack of accountability as this situation was addressed and, to this day, my constituents are deeply concerned about ongoing health risks and delayed and confused responses by state and federal agencies. I thank the Oversight Committee joining with me to demand accountability, and look forward to the prompt responses by Governor Cuomo and the EPA to this investigation.”

“I cannot thank my colleague and friend Congressman Chris Gibson enough for his relentless efforts to help the people of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh,” McLaughlin said in a news release. “Today’s news that the United States Congress Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has joined the people of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and myself in demanding answers from Governor Cuomo, his administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency is another small but important victory.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.


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