Last November, we took you to the small and rural village of Hoosick Falls, which was grappling with a report of contaminated water after elevated levels of the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA was detected in the water supply.
In the months that followed residents expressed confusion, frustration and even anger over the inconsistent communication between those affected and their state and local government.
Robert Allen, a father of 4 and music teacher in the Hoosick Falls School District is well known in town. But it was a YouTube video he made challenging a Cuomo Administration PSA that garnered far more attention.
Allen describes seeing the video as ‘shocking’ considering his New York community did not have clean water. So he made his own PSA.
“High I’m Rob Allen and I’m a proud New Yorker. Clean air, clean water uncontaminated foods, taking our kids to parks that are safe are things we used to take for granted. But here in Hoosick Falls where dumping of the cancer causing chemical PFOA has resulted in the contamination of our water supply we have realized that we have to fight for our own well being. We want to guarantee it for future generations.”
“From our perspective in Hoosick Falls where we’ve been shouting for months and months and months the people where the ones to say hay there’s a problem here, the people identified it, we’ve been advocating all this time and the government had just been dragging their feet for so long.”
The frustration had been simmering for months but when it was revealed through emails in Politico expose that officials from the Governor to the Village Mayor knew of the dangerously high chemical contamination residents were consuming that frustration boiled into anger.
“First we were irritated about that, finding out that the Department of Health fought with the EPA to tell us to stop drinking the water. So we were already kind of enflamed about that and then the envelopes came.”
Those envelopes, from the state Department of Health, addressed individually to every man woman and child contained the PFOA parts per trillion found to be in each person’s blood. Several residents, including most children tested well above the EPA advised baseline of 70 parts per-trillion.
That coupled with a sense of inaction from government which declined to hold hearings on the matter, was too much for Hackett.
“We decided, if they’re not going to listen to us, they’re gonna see us.”
Hackett and a friend Michelle Baker launched the twitter feed PFOA-Project-NY-1, featuring images of Hoosick Falls residents holding up cards with their DOH tested blood contamination levels.
“I talked about it with my family, and my daughter and son-in-law agreed we’ll do these pictures. How can you not look at a 6-year-old with 142 PFOA contamination levels? If you won’t hear us, you’re going to see us.”
Hackett and a group of locals from the village, town and surrounding area took those very images with them to the capitol along with Assemblymen Steve McLaughlin to push the legislature to hold public hearings on the government’s handling of the PFOA contamination of Hoosick Falls water.
“A hearing is to hear from people and if in fact there was wrong doing then I ask you what is wrong with saying there was wrong doing? Why do we hold hearings ever on anything? Why pass bills? Most of the bills we pass are to hold people responsible for something that either happened and we’re addressing it or we don’t want to happen. So I don’t understand why we have this mantra in this building of, well we can hold hearings but god forbid we hold anybody responsible. If that’s what comes out of the hearings, then so be it.”
Immediately after their press conference, the Hoosick Falls residents got an audience with one of Governor Coumo’s aids, which was a start for Robert Allen, even though it didn’t result in any official promise of a hearing, continued bio-monitoring or finding an alternative water source. It did give them a sense of what was being done and why.
“This kind of testing is very specific and tricky and there are very few places in the country that do this, but they are working on their own approach to testing so that they can do this in a more faster way.”
For Allen, what he’d really like his government to clarify is what those blood test levels mean, so that as bio monitoring continues families don’t have to try and comprehend form letters form the Department of Health.
“We opened mine first, cause how bad would it be? It was in the 50’s which I didn’t expect. Then we opened my wife’s which was a great great low number and I was relieved to see that. And then I said ‘alright, let’s to go my youngest’ that’s when she was tested, she was under two and how high could it be? 112. It was over twice my score. Which floored me because she’s only been alive for less than two years at the time she was tested. That was hard, I’ll never forget that moment, I didn’t have much to say after that. And then we went through each kid and found out that the younger the child, the higher their number was. So all of my kids have numbers well above mine and that was scary.”
No one, Allen says has been able to clarify exactly what those PFOA blood levels mean.