The New York State Senate approved legislation yesterday that will allow the Village of Hoosick Falls to issue bonds for up to $1.5 million to help cover the costs related to cleaning up the town’s PFOA water contamination.
The bill, which passed 60-2, will allow the village to issue bonds through the end of this year for cleanup costs and fees related to negotiating a settlement agreement with the responsible companies.
Hoosick Falls is also authorized to levy annual property taxes in order to pay for the annual debt service on the bonds, which can also be paid through water or sewage charges.
The village will have ten years to pay back bonds.
“We just needed some initial breathing room right now and in the near future so we can get things situated and work towards working on something with the companies,” stated village Mayor Rob Allen.
Mayor Allen explains that if a settlement agreement is reached with the polluters, that money will be used to pay the debt service as well as other expenses.
Unpaid expenses for testing, improvement, legal work, engineering and public relations services are reaching $1 million. However, Mayor Allen says the village is not planning to bond for the entire $1.5 million approves.
Next, the Bill will head to the Assembly for approval.
Last week marked the completion of 500 days of water contamination in Hoosick Falls with the chemical PFOA.
The Environmental Advocates of New York organized residents of Hoosick Falls to gather at the state capitol in Albany on Thursday to demand state leaders to find an uncontaminated source of drinking water for the community.
Advocates demand that the $2.5 billion clean water fund recently created in the state budget be used to restore clean water to Hoosick Falls immediately.
Currently, residents of Hoosick Falls are using filtered water from the treatment systems that have been put into place by the state to remove PFOA from the contaminated groundwater. However, residents are still afraid of the potential effects consuming the filtered water may have.
“We want to see a long-term solution to this where we’re providing clean water uncontaminated with PFOA to the village. But certainly, in the interim, we’re making sure this treatment system is 100 percent effective,” stated DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.
The DEC will soon announce the results of a feasibility study conducted to locate a new water source. Saint-Gobain and Honeywell were ordered by the state to execute this study.
“We’re looking at a few spots in the valley where enough water is being produced, at least water quality is good in a couple different wells that have been drilled. And we’re doing continual tests on that to make sure there’s enough water pressure and capacity,” said Seggos.
The state Environmental Facilities Corporation has granted $220,000 to the village of Hoosick Falls for engineering and other expenses related to the toxic PFOA contamination in the town’s water supply.
According to the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the grant money would need to be repaid only if the village comes to a settlement with the two companies held responsible for the pollution and are reimbursed for the contamination costs.
Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, stated that, “This funding will help the village as they continue to seek a fair monetary settlement with the polluters and hold them accountable for their actions…A great deal of progress has been made, but there is more work to be done, and this funding is simply one more way to support the village as they move forward.”
Earlier this week, the state Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously on a bill that would allow Hoosick Falls to to issue bonds to help cover additional contamination-related costs.
The legislation will be voted on by the complete Senate in the coming days.
Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International, the two companies held responsible for the PFOA water contamination in Hoosick Falls, offered a revised settlement this week that would pay over $1 million to the village.
This is an increase from the previous offer of $850,000 that was met with a great deal of criticism from village residents at a public meeting held to discuss the agreement last month.
The new agreement calls for Saint-Gobain and Honeywell to pay the village $1.045 million for the expenses incurred from the PFOA water contamination.
With this settlement agreement, the village would have to agree to not filing claims against the two companies for damages to the existing municipal water system.
A press release issued Wednesday states, “the agreement has been revised to ensure the village retains its right to pursue any other claims.”
These other claims could be for costs associated to, “new wells and related equipment, alternative water sources extensions or additions to the existing municipal water supply system, pollution from contaminants other than PFOA, and diminished property values.”
The proposed settlement will be considered at a board meeting being held today at 6 p.m. at the Hoosick Falls Armory.
In a meeting held this week, Honeywell representatives informed residents that there may be another form of pollutant leaking into their drinking water, apart from PFOA chemicals they are already exposed to.
Under a state consent order, Honeywell is conducting an investigation into the detection of chemicals at the site of the company’s former building in Hoosick Falls.
The type of pollutant in question is called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Prior to this investigation, chemicals known as TCE and 111-TCA were found at the John Street Honeywell location.
Honeywell is now asking permission from Hoosick Falls residents to test their homes for VOCs, as directed by the consent order with the New York State Department of Health and Environmental Conservation.
39 properties surrounding the area of Honeywell’s former facility will be investigated, according to the company’s Global Remediation Director, John Morris.
At the meeting held this week, Morris explained to town residents that VOCs enter homes through vapors released from contaminated groundwater. Basements and living rooms will be tested in the specified homes.
TCE is a known carcinogen, according to the Department of Health. It can affect the central nervous system, liver, kidneys, reproductive and immune systems, and may also cause birth defects.
Earlier this month, the two companies that were held accountable for contaminating the water supply of Hoosick Falls with PFOA agreed to a $850,000 proposed settlement agreement.
The money paid by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell in the settlement will contribute to the costs of water sampling, flushing waterlines, repairing fire hydrants, engineering, legal services, public relations, and the losses incurred from reduced water and sewer usage.
Mayor David Borge stated that the agreement, “will ensure that village residents are not forced to bear the financial burden of paying for the village’s response to the PFOA crisis — a situation they did not create.”
The agreement will also reserve rights by the village for any “future potential liabilities related to PFOA releases associated with the companies’ former manufacturing facilities in the village. PFOA contamination that may have resulted from other locations, such as the village-owned landfill, are not covered by the new agreement.”
This settlement agreement is separate from the consent order between the two companies and the state Department of Environmental Conservation that is seeking to recoup costs of additional sampling and filtering, as well as cleanup of the state Superfund site.
Taconic Inc., a local manufacturer, has officially claimed responsibility for the PFOA water contamination in the public and private town water supply of Petersburgh, New York.
A news release from Taconic stated that the company has voluntarily entered into a consent order with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation in order to address the PFOA water contamination surrounding its plant on Coon Brook Road.
“Taconic remains committed to continued cooperation with the [DEC and] the town of Petersburgh, as well as its partnership with Rensselaer County,” the release reads.
Company officials say that Taconic has already taken steps to address the PFOA contamination by installing treatment systems for 65 homes and businesses in Petersburgh, supplying bottled waters for town residents, and working on a treatment system for the town’s municipal water system.
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.
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.