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December 14, 2017
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Toxics in our environment

September 14, 2016

The drama that has been playing out in Hoosick Falls, a small village outside of Troy, NY, over the past 18 months points out how ineffective our governments have been in protecting us from the ill effects of toxic substances.

Back in the summer of 2014, a resident, named Michael Hickey, suspected that his father’s death due to a rare form of cancer was connected to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used in the making of Teflon. Hickey, who was not getting help from village officials, had the water tested by a Canadian lab, and PFOA contamination was revealed.

Some 18 months after Hickey raised the alarm, officials from the New York State Department of Health (DOH) warned the people in the village that their drinking water is, in fact, contaminated with this known carcinogen, and many people in the village have levels of it in their bodies that far exceed the level that was determined to be safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In May of this year, the safe level of exposure was lowered from 400 parts per trillion to 70 parts per trillion. Thousands of residents have undergone blood tests and many had levels 15 times higher than that.

The second of two public hearings on the subject was held on September 7, and DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker pointed a finger at EPA as being to blame for the state not taking action sooner to protect people’s health in Hoosick Falls. Zucker said the EPA guidelines were confusing, and some lawmakers were harshly critical of his answers under sharp questioning.

The EPA has begun the process of establishing the contaminated areas as Superfund sites, which will allow federal funding to be used to clean up the mess. The sites are also New York State Superfund sites, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill that will allow anyone who has been exposed to contamination from a superfund site to bring a lawsuit against the polluter for up to three years after the superfund status is achieved.

No doubt there is plenty of blame to go around in this story, but one thing that certainly helped create the conditions for this situation is our lawmakers’ tendency, at both the federal and state level, to put the interests of big business ahead of adequately protecting public health.