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New inquiries open into handling of Hoosick Falls water crisis

Posted by Karen DeWitt on

Governor Cuomo’s Administration is facing greater scrutiny over handling of the Hoosick Falls water crisis. In recent days a Congressional committee opened an inquiry, and both the state Assembly and Senate will hold hearings.

Senator Kathy Marchione, whose district includes the village of Hoosick Falls, is the latest to open an inquiry into the handling of the water crisis, amid allegations that the Cuomo Administration knew the water was contaminated with the chemical PFOA, but delayed telling residents for over a year.

“The Senate is going to be holding hearings,” said Marchione. “The first one will be held here, in Hoosick Falls.”

Marchione had resisted holding the hearings for months, saying they would only lead to finger pointing.  She’s been heavily criticized on social media.  Her announcement came after US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a listening session at the Hoosick Falls High School with village residents. They spoke emotionally about the high levels of the toxic chemical PFOA, which was used in the manufacture of Teflon products by a nearby plant, and was found in their blood. Michael Hickey was one of the first to become concerned when his father died of a rare kidney cancer. Now, he worries about his own son, who is growing up in the village.

“I started as a heartbroken son,” said Hickey, who said he’s now a “scared father”.

The residents are also angry about the way they were informed of the levels of the toxin in their blood. The state health department mailed the test results on a Friday, so many arrived over the weekend. Recipients say they were offered little support when they received the devastating news, something the health department denies.  

Perhaps the most consequential inquiry, though- is one begun by the Congressional Oversight Committee, which is demanding the Cuomo Administration hand over all documents and communications related to Hoosick Falls and PFOA from May 2014 on. In a letter, the committee cites other documents that show health department officials knew of the potential contamination for over a year, but did not tell residents that they might be in danger. The committee says the “sluggish response”   “raises serious questions”, and “caused residents to remain exposed to dangerous levels of PFOA”.

“That’s nothing short of a bombshell, “said Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin represents Hoosick Falls in the Assembly.  He’s been calling for more scrutiny. And McLaughlin, a former commercial airline pilot, says he’s pleased that the Democratic led State Assembly has now agreed to hold hearing, bringing the number of inquiries to three.

“When an airplane crashes we don’t just say, ‘let’s move forward’,” McLaughlin said. “We break that whole accident down, and we analyze it so it doesn’t happen again.”

A spokesman for Governor Cuomo, James Allen, responding to the letter from the federal oversight committee, says the administration will “gladly share” their experience, but he put some of the blame on the EPA, saying there were “shifting guidelines and absence of regulation”.

Governor Cuomo, asked about the committee’s requests during a recent trip to Utica, focused on all of the actions he’s taken since January of this year, when he declared parts of the village a state Superfund site, began actions against the potentially responsible company, Saint Gobain, and installed water filters.

“There’s nothing else that we could do,” Cuomo said.

The first hearings, held by the State Senate, will begin in August.

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