Victims of PFOA Contamination Deserve Medical Monitoring

David Bond, an associate director of Bennington College’s Center for the Advancement of Public Action, wrote the below article in the VTDigger to emphasize the importance of medical monitoring and health care funds for the victims of PFOA contamination.

Four years after PFOA was discovered in drinking water in Hoosick Falls and then in residential wells around Bennington, families exposed to the toxic chemical have valid and still unaddressed questions about the long-term health consequences they now face. This is unacceptable.

 

As a professor working to bring the scientific resources of a nearby college into the conversation on this environmental problem, I have seen the fallout of PFOA firsthand: home values dissolved in the stigma of contamination, pregnancy met with trembling uncertainty, and the strange normality of residents disclosing PFOA levels in their blood.

 

Although new water filtration systems, Superfund designations in New York, and public water line extensions in Vermont are minimizing PFOA contamination going forward, many residents now carry a lifetime of worry. With infuriating subtlety, PFOA has been linked to cancer and other illnesses that show up decades after exposure.

 

As impacted communities educate themselves about the toxicological profile of PFOA, they’ve found themselves at an impasse: The more they learn about the intricate risks of PFOA, the more they realize how inadequate the medical response has been.

 

In Hoosick Falls, much of this has to do with the tepid response of New York’s Department of Health. DOH delayed acknowledging this crisis long after the evidence demanded it, continued to withhold summaries of health information collected from residents, and at one point erroneously informed residents they could drink contaminated water without worry.

 

Last August, I helped launch a community health questionnaire. Supported by the project “Understanding PFOA” at Bennington College, this questionnaire aimed to give residents’ knowledge of their own health more prominence in ongoing discussions about PFOA. This questionnaire polled local residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Bennington about local incidents of six illnesses linked to PFOA: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and diagnosed high cholesterol.

 

This questionnaire generated 443 responses that provided health information about individuals and members of their family. After removing duplicates and verbally confirming many of the responses, the questionnaire reported 31 instances of kidney cancer, 11 instances of testicular cancer, and over 230 instances of thyroid disease in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Bennington.

 

Hoosick Falls, New York (pop. 3,420) fielded the most participants in this questionnaire, with 373 residents responding. Within Hoosick Falls, the questionnaire reported 17 cases of kidney cancer, nine cases of testicular cancer, and 135 cases of thyroid disease. These numbers differ significantly from previous reports.

 

In May 2017, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) conducted a Cancer Incidence Investigation related to PFOA in Hoosick Falls. Relying on archival data in the NYS Cancer Registry, the NYS DOH survey reported 12 cases of kidney cancer and zero cases of testicular cancer in Hoosick Falls between 1995 and 2014. The 17 cases of kidney cancer and nine cases of testicular cancer reported in Hoosick Falls by this community questionnaire rise above NYS DOH’s baseline for concern and warrant renewed attention now.

 

In Vermont, our questionnaire reported cases of testicular cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension among Bennington residents exposed to PFOA. Like in New York, these cases are concerning and warrant renewed attention now.

 

The Vermont Department of Health should commission a serious study of the health impact of PFOA in Bennington, which needs to focus on health trends among the population exposed to PFOA. Data in the cancer registry is lumped together by zip code or census tract, both of which are a poor proxy for exposure.

 

Over the past year, I’ve met several local residents diagnosed with PFOA-associated cancers struggling to keep up with mounting medical bills. Juggling chemotherapy and visits to specialized clinics on top of family and work, these individuals are now working second jobs and relying on GoFundMe campaigns to get the health care they need. This is not right. Victims of toxic pollution should never have to pay for their own medical treatment.

 

Polluters, not taxpayers, must be required to fund the new health care needs PFOA has introduced into our communities, including medical monitoring and a designated health care fund. Medical monitoring provides resources to local health care providers to be on the lookout for early indications of illnesses associated with PFOA, and a designated health fund provides comprehensive treatment options should any resident be diagnosed with one of those illnesses.

 

In Vermont, medical monitoring was thwarted by Gov. Phil Scott last May. After passing the House and the Senate, S.197 – a popular bill that provided polluter-funded medical monitoring to Vermont communities impacted by toxic pollution – was vetoed by Gov. Scott. In a statement, Gov. Scott described PFOA as a “public health crisis” before explaining how settlements with Saint-Gobain that provide clean drinking water to residents were sufficient resolutions to PFOA contamination. Calling PFOA a “public health crisis” just before dismissing the legitimate health concerns of residents adds insult to injury. Any settlement with Saint-Gobain that does not address the health concerns of residents is an incomplete settlement.

 

It’s time for the governor’s office to recognize the truth that residents of Bennington have been living for the past few years: PFOA is a serious health hazard. Medical monitoring and a health care fund for these communities is a long overdue step towards making our communities whole again.

Click here to read the full article.


New Study Finds PFOA Contamination May Have Spread Through Air

PFOA contaminationIn a recent study, a team of faculty and student researchers at Bennington College discovered elevated levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in soil samples stretching a 120 square mile area east of the ChemFab plant in North Bennington, Vermont.

ChemFab was previously owned by Saint Gobain, the manufacturing company accountable for contaminating the groundwater in Hoosick Falls.

A consent order with Vermont had only identified around 12 square miles of contaminated land and Saint Gobain claimed that their PFOA emissions were limited to only the nearby neighborhoods.

The study brings to light the discovery of elevated PFOA levels in soil located downwind of the Saint Gobain facilities, including the Hoosick Falls plant.

“The pattern in soil seem fairly clear,” said David Bond, a Bennington College professor involved in the study. “They all point back to the Saint-Gobain plants in North Bennington and Hoosick Falls.”

“Our research suggests Saint-Gobain has been insisting on a microscopic view of a wide angle problem. When you zoom out, you begin to see just how extensive PFOA contamination may actually be,” Bond added.

Click here to read more.


PFOA Contamination Study Begins In Petersburgh Taconic Plant

More than two years after the Taconic Plastics plant in Petersburgh, New York first alerted the state of concerns about contamination around its Route 22 facility, the company is beginning an in-depth investigation into the extent of PFOA contamination in the area.

Taconic will commence with doing soil tests and installing groundwater wells in order to study the actual extent of PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, contamination.

Following the discovery of PFOA contamination in the Village of Hoosick Falls’ water supply in 2016, Taconic approached the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Health Department regarding previous PFOA contamination at its Petersburgh facility.

Due to major concerns about the negative health effects this PFOA contamination might cause for residents in the years to come, Taconic signed a consent order with New York State requiring the installation of a filtration system on Petersburgh’s municipal water plant. Testing and filtration systems on private wells in the area were also mandated.

In addition, Taconic was required to investigate the scope of the contamination to see how much of the surrounding area had been affected, and to look into ways of remediation.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced that a report detailing the investigation’s discoveries will be released in 2019.

The DEC stated in its announcement that, “the information collected during the site investigation may also support the conclusion that no action, or no further action, is needed to address site-related contamination.”

There is currently an ongoing class action lawsuit against Taconic that has been filed by Petersburgh residents.

Read the full article here.


New Survey Seeks Insight Into Health Impacts of PFOA

The New York Department of Health announced this week that it will be launching a national health effects study of communities impacted by chemical substances such as PFOA, including Hoosick Falls.

Five states have signed up to support the DOH’s request to the Centers for Disease Control to launch the study, including Alaska, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

The Department of Health has also launched an online survey as part of a project called Understanding PFOA, which focuses on current or past residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, or Bennington.

This questionnaire is apart from previous studies as it will examine all illnesses linked to PFOA, not just cancers.

Questions asked in the survey, responses to which will be kept confidential, include where and when they lived in that particular area, their occupations, and any health conditions they have been diagnosed with.

“Are there trends, health trends in their communities, among the residents who consumed contaminated water?” stated environmental leader Judith Enck.

More than 1,700 residents in the Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh area have already completed the survey.

October 1st is the last day given to complete the health questionnaire.

The survey can be found online here. For those without access to a computer, a paper version of the questionnaire can be obtained by calling the DOH at 518-402-7950.

Read the full story here.


High PFOA Test Results Shock Hoosick Falls Residents

Hoosick Falls PFOA Water ContaminationGroundwater sampling from the Saint Gobain Performance Plastics manufacturing plant on McCaffery Street recorded PFOA levels at 130,000 parts per trillion. This is seven times higher than what was reported three years ago.

Saint Gobain’s Liberty Street site and Honeywell International’s John Street sites were also tested and both were found to be sources of contamination, according to Department of Environmental Conservation officials.

DEC Commissioner, Basil Seggos, states that the discrepancy in test results are due to having a limited number of samplings available in previous reports.

The test samplings included groundwater, soil and sediment, and others. Further investigation will determine the extent of the contamination, what elements are impacted and how widespread the contamination truly is.

Over 100 Village residents were present at the Hoosick Falls Center School to hear the results of the PFOA testing and learn what the next steps would be.

New York State officials, as well as Saint Gobain and Honeywell International representatives, spoke to residents and invited them to ask questions.

State officials also revealed additional sites that will be investigated further as possible sources of contamination, including the Hoosick Falls Landfill, the former Oak-Mitsui on First Street and Allied-Signal Laminate Systems on Mechanic Street.

An initial alternative water supply evaluation is expected to be completed by the fall. Residents will be given the opportunity to  review and comment on the proposed plan.

Read the full story here.


County Legislators Approves Resolution to Speed Up Hoosick Falls Cleanup

hoosick falls PFOA water contaminatonLast week, Rensselaer County legislators unanimously approved a resolution in hopes of speeding up the cleanup process of the site identified as the source of PFOA contamination in Hoosick Falls.

The resolution was suggested by the Legislature’s chairman, Stan Brownell.

Along with including the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics’ McCaffrey Street plant on the federal Superfund National Priorities List, the resolution also asks for adequate funding and a proper timeline for the cleanup.

PFOA, which has been linked to numerous chronic health risks, has been affecting Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh residents for over a year.

“This is an important property in Hoosick Falls, and inclusion on the federal National Priorities List will help restore the property and resolve some of the concerns residents have regarding the PFOA situation,” said Brownell. “We also have asked the federal government to provide a specific timeline for this important remediation work. A clear and direct line of communication with residents on this project, and continued progress, are needed to restore confidence and trust.”

The Rensselaer County Legislature also recently approved a resolution to establish a website dedicated to informing residents about the cleanup project.

Read the full story here.


Hoosick Falls Water Contamination Hearings Begin

A State Senate committee held a daylong hearing in Hoosick Falls this week to address the PFOA water contamination issue that has been affecting residents for months.

Michael Hickey, a Hoosick Falls lifelong resident who was one of the first to bring attention to the town’s contaminated water, spoke at the hearing about how he discovered a connection between the death of his father from kidney cancer and the toxic chemical Teflon.

Hoosick Falls water contamination

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

“All I typed in was Teflon and cancer, because that’s what was in the factory that was in Hoosick Falls where my father worked,” stated Hickey at the Tuesday hearing.

Although it only took Hickey “about five minutes,” it took government officials much longer to notice the contamination, or to take action.

Only in recent months has the gravity of this issue come to light as researchers found that the town’s public water supply was tainted with high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which is used in several products as well as in the production of Teflon.

State officials have identified the source of the contamination as the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant.

Several nearby towns in New York as well as in Vermont have also reported high levels of PFOA since then.

Dr. Marcus Martinez, a local physician, had also testified alongside Hickey stating he had long noted what he believed to be unusually high rates of cancer in the village. He said that he and Hickey had brought their concerns, as well as test results, to the attention of village and state officials in 2014, but had been disappointed by a lack of action.

“I do believe our citizens were advised incorrectly to consume water that was unsafe for at least for 12 months,” Dr. Martinez said.

Read the full article in the New York Times.


Hoosick Falls & Petersburgh Landfills Declared Potential State Superfund Sites

Department_of_Environmental_ConservationThe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced this week that the municipal landfills in Hoosick Falls and Towns of Petersburgh and Berlin have been declared Potential State Superfund Sites.

These sites became eligible for potential placement on the State Superfund Site Registry after preliminary investigations discovered that the sites may contain PFOA, a chemical listed as a hazardous chemical by New York State.

Further investigation will look for evidence of hazardous waste disposed at the landfills and any resulting contamination that may pose a threat to public health or the environment.

“DEC remains committed to ensuring a comprehensive clean-up of the contamination in these communities,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Identifying these two landfills as P-sites is the next step in the state’s ongoing response to provide residents in these affected communities the information and protection they deserve.”

PFOA is believed to have been disposed at both landfills.

Monitoring wells at the Hoosick Falls site were found to contain concentrations of up to 21,000 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOA, and samples at the Petersburgh/Berlin site were found to contain concentrations up to 4,200 ppt of PFOA.

The State Superfund Program allows the state to launch investigations of the contamination and hold the parties responsible accountable for the remediation of these sites.

The DEC will work to identify potentially responsible parties that disposed of hazardous wastes and hold them accountable for costs associated with the investigation and remediation.

View the DEC’s letters to the towns here:

Letter to Hoosick Falls Officials

Letter to Petersburgh and Berlin Officials


More Health Harms from PFOA Found

New studies have came out recently that show more harmful effects of PFOA exposure on mothers and their children.

Four studies that have been conducted by Harvard researchers and other leading journals to look into highly fluorinated chemicals such as PFOA.

“These chemicals have some of the strongest bonds in the periodic table, and they basically never break down, so they stay around for millions of years,” said Arlene Blum from the University of California, Berkeley-based Green Science Policy Institute.

Several kinds of cancer, high cholesterol and obesity are some of the harmful health effects associated with PFOA exposure.

It was also found that young children who are exposed to the chemical PFOA have a reduced immune response to vaccinations. Furthermore, as children grow older, they may experience other problems such as more colds and upset stomachs.

Another study discovered that women who had high levels of PFOA in their blood were not able to breastfeed as long as other women.

Learn more here.

Attorneys Stephen Schwarz and Hadley Matarazzo at Faraci Lange, as well as Robin Greenwald at Weitz & Luxenberg, represent the plaintiffs as co-lead counsel in the Hoosick Falls lawsuit.

Studies Presume PFOA to be Immune Hazard for Humans

PFOA immune hazardThe National Toxicology Program recently conducted a systematic review of immunotoxicity associated with exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and concluded that the chemical is presumed to be an immune hazard to humans.

The NTP found a high level of evidence that PFOA suppressed the antibody response from
animal studies and the moderate level of evidence from studies in humans. The research also found a high level of evidence that PFOA increased hypersensitivity-related outcomes from animal studies and low level of evidence from studies in humans.

There is additional, although weaker, evidence that is primarily from epidemiological studies that PFOA reduced infectious disease resistance and increased autoimmune disease.

The evidence indicating that PFOA affects multiple aspects of the immune system supports the overall conclusion that PFOA alters immune function in humans.

Read the full report here.

Residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and other communities who believe they may have been impacted by the PFOA water contamination are encouraged to contact us or submit a contamination contact form.