New York Considers Limits on PFOA Contamination in Drinking Water

In an effort to help New York’s Drinking Water Quality Council make recommendations for the maximum legal amount of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the state’s drinking water, the panel recently heard from experts on issues like laboratory methods and water treatment costs.

The panel was created in this year’s state budget and is mandated to make recommendations on contaminant limits by next October. This was the second meeting held by the panel and included statements made by residents of Petersburg and Hoosick Falls. Both communities have suffered from water supplies contaminated by PFOA manufacturers.

While the government and other states have established advisory levels for PFOA and other contaminates in water supplies, there is no law in place that establishes enforceable limits for such contaminates according to state Health Department Deputy Commissioner Brad Hutton. Hutton says the Health Department is going to set a legal enforceable level that all municipal water supplies have to adhere to.

Read the full article here.

For more information about the hearing and the current status of Hoosick Falls’ water contamination problem, click here.

 

 

 

 

Stephen G. Schwarz, Managing Partner of Faraci Lange, is representing plaintiffs in the Hoosick Falls water contamination class action as Co-Lead Counsel with Hadley Matarazzo.


PFOA and PFOS: In-Depth Look at Chemicals Creating Major Concerns

In the past few years, contamination of drinking water supplies has been discovered in several small towns in northeastern upstate New York as well as in a nearby community in North Bennington, Vermont.

Thereafter, similar contamination was discovered near a plant in New Hampshire, on Cape Cod and near Newburgh, New York.  The chemical involved in all three drinking water supplies is perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA). This chemical, or a closely related one known as PFOS, has turned up in the drinking water of multiple other localities.

What makes this discovery striking is that this contamination was discovered not through routine governmental required testing, but through the vigilance and diligence of concerned citizens.

In the case of North Bennington, the state of Vermont quickly became actively involved. While in New York, the state government was slow to react and when it did, performed rather unevenly, causing residents to consume contaminated water for many months after the contamination was discovered.

Faraci Lange is handling multiple cases in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, the two upstate New York towns where the contamination was discovered, and where efforts are now underway to deal with the problem.

 

What is PFOA?

PFOA is a man-made chemical not found in nature. It is an eight carbon chain with each but the last carbon atom bonded to fluorine atoms.  The last carbon atom is bonded to an oxygen atom and an OH group, making it an acid. However, the acid form of this molecule is not typically how it is used in manufacturing.

Ammonium perfluorooctanoate (APFO), which is the initial form of the acid, is used as a surfactant in the production of PTFE coated materials including Teflon® cooking surfaces and various waterproof and stain-proof fabrics used for carpeting, upholstery, clothing, tapes and various other uses.

As a surfactant, APFO is added to PTFE dispersions to help the chemical mixture spread evenly on whatever surface it is being applied. The object is then heated causing the PTFE to adhere to the surface and the APFO to vaporize and discharge into the air.

APFO was invented, manufactured and sold by the 3M Corporation until approximately 2001.  3M became concerned about the health hazards of APFO and decided to stop manufacturing the chemical. Thereafter, DuPont, which has been one of the largest customers of 3M in purchasing the chemical to make its Teflon® products, began to manufacture the chemical for its own use and for sale to other manufactures of PTFE resins.

In 2006, due to human health concerns, the United States Environmental Protection Agency initiated the 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program. Eight major companies committed to reduce facility emissions and product contents of PFOA and related chemicals (including PFOS) on a global basis by 95% no later than 2010 and to work toward eliminating emissions and product content of these chemicals by 2015. To a large extent this goal was accomplished, but the chemicals substituted in their places are very similar man-made multiple carbon chain molecules with untested and unknown health effects.

 

How does PFOA get into drinking water?

When the vaporized APFO cools after being exhausted out of the stacks of the manufacturing facility, it forms particulate matter that is carried by the air until it settles to the ground or is washed out of the air by precipitation. Once it reaches the soil, it loses the NHgrouping and converts to the acid form.

PFOA then readily dissolves into water and washes down into the groundwater.  It also dissolves into surface waters out of the air and the remnants of the original dispersion containing APFO are frequently discharged in liquid form by these same manufacturing facilities into both ground and surface waters near the facilities.

 

What are the health hazards of PFOA?

PFOA and a related chemical PFOS, which is another eight carbon manmade molecule used in foam fire retardants, are particularly troublesome because they are both highly resistant to breakdown in the environment. Once they convert to the acid form, there is nothing in nature that breaks them down, and they will persist for decades or centuries.

Equally problematic is their persistence once they are inhaled, ingested or absorbed into the human body.  Studies have shown it takes two to seven years for the body to rid itself of half of the PFOA contained in blood serum. Thus, where there is long-term exposure and a buildup of these chemicals in the bloodstream, it can take a lifetime to reduce the levels.

Unfortunately, due to the persistence and ubiquity of these chemicals, even though they are not found in nature, they are found in all of us at low levels, usually determined to be about 2 parts per billion. People who consume water contaminated with PFOA, like the residents of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, can have levels hundreds of times above those background levels.

Studies of workers exposed to PFOA have shown multiple possible negative health effects for years. Both 3M and DuPont did internal unpublished worker studies which suggested multiple different adverse health effects, forming the basis of 3M stopping its production of the chemical. However, the most comprehensive study of PFOA health effects resulted from the 2006 settlement of a lawsuit brought against DuPont for contaminating the drinking water supply of approximately 70,000 people living in communities along the Ohio River in West Virginia and Ohio. DuPont’s Washington Works plant located in Parkersburg, WV released PFOA, which was referred to as C8, into the air and into the Ohio River causing this contamination.

A lawsuit brought on behalf of citizens in the affected communities resulted in a massive study of the health effects of this chemical funded by DuPont as a condition of the settlement. Almost 70,000 people participated by completing surveys of their health histories and being tested for PFOA in their bloodstreams. Pursuant to the settlement, the C8 Science Panel was selected by attorneys for DuPont and the plaintiffs and consisted of three nationally recognized epidemiologists. They were tasked with reviewing the data generated from the study and determining whether there were any illnesses in this population that were likely related to the PFOA exposures.

The panel concluded that PFOA created an elevated risk of kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, elevated liver enzymes, elevated uric acid levels, high cholesterol and pregnancy induced hypertension, and that in virtually all cases, the risk increased with level of exposure, which is referred to as a dose-response. Follow up studies found evidence of associations to other diseases including ovarian cancer.

 

Federal and State Regulation of PFOA

PFOA and PFOS are among thousands of man-made chemicals that were unregulated by either the state or federal governments until recently.

In 2009, the EPA identified PFOA as an emerging contaminant of concern and issued a provisional health advisory stating that short term (weeks to months) exposure to PFOA-contaminated water at a concentration of 400 parts per trillion (ppt) can cause human health effects. The EPA also advised at that time that long-term exposure to PFOS-contaminated water at a concentration of 200 parts per trillion (ppt) can cause human health effects.

Following EPA’s action in 2009, several states including Minnesota, Maine and New Jersey set drinking water limits for PFOA below EPA’s short term exposure level of 400 ppt. By 2016, EPA issued a health advisory warning that drinking water should not contain more than 70 ppt. Other states, including Vermont, set even lower limits, with Vermont setting a limit of 20 ppt. Leading scientists in the field have concluded that even these limits are too high and the standard should be set at 1 ppt.

Levels discovered in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh were as high as 600 to several thousand parts per trillion. Water filtration systems have been installed on the public water supply after residents went months only drinking bottled water. Individual point of entry treatment systems (POET) were installed on hundreds of private wells in the area. A long-term source of clean drinking water is being sought for both communities, but this will not be an easy task.

 

Civil Lawsuits against Polluters

Class action lawsuits are now underway in state and federal courts on behalf of the citizens of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, seeking recoveries from the companies responsible for the contamination.

These suits are claiming property devaluation damages and are also seeking to establish a medical surveillance program to screen the exposed population for the diseases associated with PFOA exposure to promote early diagnosis and treatment.

Faraci Lange is lead counsel in those cases. In addition, several cases have been filed by residents exposed to PFOA who have been diagnosed with illnesses associated with PFOA exposure, and more will be filed in the coming months.

 

Stephen G. Schwarz, Managing Partner of Faraci Lange, is representing plaintiffs in the Hoosick Falls water contamination class action as Co-Lead Counsel with Hadley Matarazzo.

 

 


New York Considers Tougher Water Quality Standards

The twelve-member Drinking Water Quality Council held its first meeting today to consider establishing maximum contaminant levels for toxic chemicals in New York State water.

Some say that this rule-making is necessary because of a lack of continuity in the system of federal water quality regulation.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has requested that the council consider setting the maximum contaminant levels for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), as well as perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and 1,4-Dioxane.

Brad Hutton, the deputy commissioner of public health for the New York State Department of Health, stated that the council has been given the responsibility on advising the DOH commissioner on what unregulated contaminants should be tested throughout the state.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitors several unregulated contaminants every five years, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act’s guidelines. This leaves gaps in the federal system’s approach of ensuring water quality.

“They have been moving too slow of a pace,” stated Hutton, stressing the state’s need of establishing its own maximum contaminant levels.

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.


Editorial: Cancer Study Provides Incomplete Picture of Health Impact

The Daily Gazette recently published an editorial elaborating on the lack of scope of the New York State Department of Health’s cancer study that investigated the impact Hoosick Falls’ PFOA water contamination had on residents’ health.

The study found that there were no elevated incidences of cancer among village residents due to the long term exposure of PFOA.

In the opinion of many, the study provides an incomplete and potentially inaccurate image of the effects of PFOA on Hoosick Falls residents.

For one, the investigation only took into account data from the state’s cancer registry of people residing in the Village of Hoosick Falls.

This left out people living in the surrounding town of Hoosick Falls, where more than 100 wells were contaminated with PFOA. This also excluded the town residents who get their water from the village’s municipal supply.

Additionally, the study also failed to include data from people who had previously lived in the contamination area but have since moved out.

Another factor was the length of the study. The investigation studied data from 1995, which is about 22 years. The contamination, however, is said to go back about 40 years.

The report also had a lack of transparency, with the names of the researchers and peer reviewers being unidentified. This makes it more difficult for the public to evaluate the qualifications of the people behind the study.

Read the full editorial here.


Community Meeting Addresses Questions About State Cancer Study

A community meeting was held in Hoosick Falls last week to address questions regarding the New York State Department of Health cancer study that was recently released.

The study, which investigates the effect of PFOA exposure on cancer rates in the Village of Hoosick Falls, was criticized by many for its narrow scope. Shortly after its release, residents gathered at the Hoosick Falls Armory for answers.

“Nobody is being held accountable. Nobody has even apologized for dumping toxins in the water,” said Barbara Burch, who previously lived in Hoosick Falls with her family but now resides in Petersburg.

Burch and her family have been consuming water contaminated with PFOA for over 20 years, after which her husband died from cancer.

“…nobody contacted me about his results or what happened to him,” stated Burch, feeling frustrated that her husband’s results were left out from the study.

Mayor Rob Allen was also present at the meeting and wanted the community to know that the Department of Health would be accessible to answer any questions.

“We spent a lot of time explaining what our study didn’t do…Our study does not dismiss or diminish the very valid concerns that residents have,” said Department of Health Deputy Commissioner for Public Health Brad Hutton.

More meetings will be scheduled in Hoosick Falls by the Department of Health for anyone who still has questions.

Read the full article here.


State Report Showing No Elevations of Cancer in Hoosick Falls Criticized for Narrow Scope

The New York State Department of Health recently released a Cancer Incidence Investigation report that found no significant elevations of cancer for any of the cancer types associated with exposure to PFOA.

The Department of Health studied data from New York State’s Cancer Registry between the dates of January 1995 through December 2014 to analyze cancers diagnosed among residents of Hoosick Falls.

The investigation reported lower rates of certain types of cancer that have been linked to long-term PFOA exposure, including kidney, thyroid and testicular cancers.

A significantly elevated rate of lung cancer, which has not been linked to PFOA exposure, was however reported. There were 91 cases of lung cancer found during the study period – much higher than the expected rate of 65 cases for a population of this size.

Critics found the investigation to be flawed as it did not take into account the Hoosick Falls residents who were diagnosed with cancer after moving away from the village.

The report also fails to indicate whether cancer rates were specifically reviewed among individuals whose blood contained elevated levels of PFOA.

“The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether village residents who consumed contaminated water had increased rates of cancer relative to the rest of the state,” stated deputy commissioner for public health Brad Hutton.

Residents who live in the town of Hoosick surrounding the village were also not included in the study. The Department of Health stated that it limited its investigation to village residents since their level of exposure to PFOA was consistent.

Additionally, the study was limited to cancer and ignored other health conditions that have been linked to high exposure of PFOA, such as preeclampsia, colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and respiratory problems.

Read the DOH Cancer Report Summary for more information.

The full article can be viewed here.


Hoosick Falls Considers Farmland for New Water Supply

Hoosick Falls PFOA contaminationHoosick Falls is looking into a farm along the Hoosic River located about a mile south of the village’s water treatment plant as an alternate water supply after the PFOA water contamination.

The farmland is owned by Jeffrey Wysocki, Hoosick town Councilman, and is located off Route 22 across from the central school district building.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation drilled a test well at the site and found that the underground water supply in the area is free of PFOA.

The state will begin installing a larger well line in two weeks to test the strength of the underground aquifer and to verify that it would be able to supply 500,000 gallons per day, which is the village’s water usage requirement. In addition, it will also re-test the water for any contamination.

The DEC has been leading the search for an alternate water supply since last February.

Sean C. Mahar from the DEC stated, “Our investigation has been thorough and accomplished a lot in a relatively short period of time…We have a very promising location.”

The next step will include Saint-Gobain and Honeywell to conduct studies that would rank and provide cost estimates of all the alternate water supply options. The proposals will be introduced in community hearings allowing for public input.

Read the full article here.


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


Hoosick Falls Update: EPA Soil Sampling at Ballfields

CaptureThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it will be testing soil samples from three ballfields in the village of Hoosick Falls that are located near a possible source of the town’s recent PFOA water contamination.

The sample testing will determine if the PFOA that was released into the air in the past from local facilities also contaminated the soil on the village’s ballfields due to their close proximity to the suspected source. Testing the ballfields will also show if the area had been used for disposal in the past.

This test will consist of samples taken at seven different locations on the three fields, as well as their dugout and bleacher areas. These samples will be tested for PFOA, its related chemicals, and several pollutants. The results will determine if cleanup work is necessary in the area by comparing them to the EPA’s established standards.

The results of the soil testing are expected to come back between late March and early April. The EPA will hold a public meeting to announce the results and answer questions before the start of the baseball and softball season.

Additional information about the Hoosick Falls water contamination can be found here or on the EPA website.

Residents of Hoosick Falls and other communities who believe they may have been impacted are encouraged to contact us and complete a water contamination contact form.