In early June at least two residents in the small upstate New York village, Hoosick Falls, were tested to have 50 times the national average of the toxic chemical PFOA (perflurooctanoic acid). Harold and Marion Stevens told News 10 ABC TV that their numbers were 159 and 104 mcg per liter respectively. The nationwide average readings for PFOA are 2.08.
While this may seem like a problem more specific to Harold and Marion, the average reading for residents in Hoosick Falls is 23.5. “The average person up there is about 11 times the national average,” said Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a village representative.
The reasons why the tests were conducted in the first place is because residents of Hoosick Falls launched their own effort to determine whether or not something toxic was in the water after several of them died of rare cancers. These residents suspected a nearby plastics manufacturing site as being the most likely culprit.
The chemical they found in their water supply and the residents themselves – PFOA – has been linked to both kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease and ulcerative colitis as well as many other illnesses. But what is even more concerning than the presence of PFOA in the water supply is that both state and local officials knew about the situation a full year before the federal Environmental Protection Agency warned residents to stop drinking their water November 2015.
All the while, these officials did nothing. In fact, despite the warnings from the EPA and high levels of PFOA found in recent tests, Rensselaer County officials and the state government continued to assure residents their water was safe.
Assemblyman McLaughlin, however, is demanding the U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara investigate. “The Cuomo administartion took affirmative steps to deny the public information,” McLaughlin said. “They pushed back against the EPA. The Cuomo administration claimed they were following the EPA guidelines when they were not. In my mind, that’s a crime.”
Cuomo administration officials claim that the state Health Department was helping filter and test the water and that it followed EPA guidelines. Admittedly, this claim is hard to believe after the state hid information about the toxicity levels of the water supply for a full year and even then continued to assure residents that their water is safe when it is not.
Assembly speaker, Carl Heastie, pledged in February that he would hold hearings about the situation but has since backed down on his promise. PFOA contamination was also found in the water supply of Petersburgh, another town of Rensselaer County in February of this year.
Rensselaer County is only tens of miles northeast of Albany and serves as proof that situations like Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, now a well known humanitarian crisis, are unfortunately not uncommon.