ALBANY – A manufacturing plant at the center of Hoosick Falls’ water contamination problem was designated as a federal Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday.
The agency decision to add Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics on the federal Superfund: National Priorities List means that federal resources can be used to clean areas of the village that have been contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a man-made chemical used to coat nonstick cookware and stain-resistant fabrics, that has been found to persist in the environment and the body and to have adverse health effects. The chemical has been found in the village’s water supply, along with trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical used as an industrial solvent. The designation by the EPA means that the federal government can also seek reimbursement from the companies responsible for the contamination.
“Today, we are adding sites to the Superfund: National Priorities List to ensure they are cleaned up for the benefit of these communities,” said EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in a statement released Monday. “When we clean up these sites, we make communities healthier places to live and clear the way for development and increased economic activity.”The EPA’s decision to add Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics on the federal Superfund priorities list comes days after Pruitt announced the agency’s plan to create a “top-10 list” of Superfund cleanup sites, which have yet to be announced.
Both New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand had urged the federal government to add Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics as a Superfund site.
In a statement, Schumer said, “I am glad that EPA has heeded our call to add this site to the Superfund list because it gives the EPA leverage to make the polluters pay and to set a protocol for investigation and clean-up.”
Concerns over contaminated water were brought to the attention of Mayor Dave Borge in August 2014, according to the village. In January 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant in Hoosick Falls as a state Superfund site and requested that the federal government also list it on the EPA’s Superfund site list. The state designation allows state agencies to investigate the contamination and begin addressing how to fix it. The plants stopped using the chemical in 2015, according to the EPA statement.
After PFOA was discovered in the public drinking water, a carbon filtration system was installed on the village of Hoosick Falls’ water supply wells to treat the water, but the chemical also has been found in private wells. The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health have been working with the EPA to address the issue, according to the EPA.
In the years since the PFOA contamination came to light, several residents (NYLJ July 27, 2016) of the village have filed lawsuits against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell International Inc., which also has manufacturing plants in Hoosick Falls. In February, residents of the village filed a lawsuit against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell claiming that the PFOA pollution harmed their property values and that exposure to the chemical increased the risk for cancer and other illnesses.
“To the extent that it makes more resources available to the community to address the problem, we’re happy to see that happen, said Hadley Matarazzo, a partner at plaintiff firm Faraci Lange, who is representing residents of Hoosick Falls in the lawsuit.
Tate Kunkle, an associate in the environmental litigation department at Napoli Shkolnik, a national mass tort firm that is also representing Hoosick Falls residents, called the federal designation a “nice acknowledgement,” adding that the designation would allow the federal government to “put in some money to help clean up this site.”
In July 2016, Cuomo signed a bill into law extending the statute of limitation for personal injury claims related to pollution at Superfund sites. The law allows those who have been exposed to chemicals or other pollutants at Superfund sites to file a claim for up to three years after a location has been designated a federal or state Superfund site.
As a result, residents who haven’t joined the lawsuit or whose illnesses haven’t manifested themselves may now file suit against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell, Kunkle said in an interview.