The tiny, rural town of Hoosick Falls, NY — located in Rensselaer County — is currently in crisis mode, after a December warning from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised residents against using tap water for cooking and drinking purposes. Since then, the town’s population of 3,500 has relied on a free supply of bottled water as their sole safe water source.
It all started back in August 2014, when citizens became concerned the high volume of rare cancers that plagued townspeople. One resident asked village leaders to have the town’s water supply tested for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a perfluoralkyl carboxylate that is produced synthetically as a salt — most commonly as ammonium salt.
The State Health Department initially refused to test the Hoosick Falls water supply for PFOA, claiming it was unnecessary, but eventually gave in. Findings revealed that PFOA was present, but officials claimed levels were not high enough to present an immediate health hazard. However, a November 2015 letter from the EPA took a different stance.
EPA Letter Warns Hoosick Falls of Dangerous PFOA Levels
In the EPA letter, Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck noted that four samples taken from the public water supply in Hoosick Falls in June 2015 contained more than 600 ppt of PFOA. She also said some private wells in the area have shown an elevated presence of PFOA. Consequently, Enck recommended that an alternate drinking and cooking water source be provided to residents until PFOA concentrations are consistently reduced to below the 400 ppt level.
On Jan. 28, 2016, the EPA issued an updated statement on private wells in Hoosick Falls, recommending that anyone with a private well where PFOA levels have been detected at levels greater than 100 parts per trillion stop using the water for drinking and cooking, until further notice.
Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is thought to be the culprit of the contaminated water. The plastic fabrication company has a Hoosick Falls plant that uses PFOA. In December 2014, Saint-Gobain sent a letter to the EPA, notifying the agency of high levels of PFOA at the manufacturing plant. Environmental authorities have since declared the plant a state Superfund site.
New York State Agencies Step In
In late January, Gov. Cuomo ordered two New York State agencies to use Superfund money, filtration systems and testing to learn more about the PFOA presence in the town’s water supply. He said he plans to visit the town when the results of the state’s second round of tests are in.
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