House GOP lawmakers are demanding answers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over why the agency failed to warn residents of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., their drinking was full of toxic chemicals.
EPA and state officials became aware of the fact that Hoosick Falls’ drinking water had high levels of PFOA, a chemical used to make Teflon that’s linked to cancer, in its drinking water in December 2014. EPA told state officials of the high PFOA levels, but the agency didn’t issue a warning until November 2015.
“The fact that EPA staff at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., knew or should have known about the problem, and failed to communicate with their counterparts in region 2, raises serious questions, considering the health and safety of the residents of Hoosick Falls was at stake,” Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Hoosick Falls residents began wondering about the safety of their drinking water in summer 2014 after a spike in cancer cases hit the town, and had the water tested themselves when state and local officials dismissed their complaints. The tests found PFOA levels well in excess of EPA standards of 400 parts per trillion at the time.
Residents convinced local officials to conduct a test in November 2014. That test also found high PFOA levels. EPA soon became aware of the town’s high PFOA levels and talked to New York state officials about the problem — but that went nowhere.
EPA’s headquarters were notified of the problem in December 2014, but the agency did not issue any public warning until one year later. State officials didn’t warn anyone either, despite being aware of high PFOA levels.
In fact, New York Health Department officials assured Hoosick Falls residents their water was safe to drink for more than a year before admitting the water was unsafe.
Hoosick Falls’ woes come after Congress slammed the EPA for its handling of Flint, Michigan’s water crisis. Flint’s water became contaminated with high levels of lead after the town switched its water supply from Detroit’s utility to the Flint River.
State regulators prescribed the wrong chemical treatment for treating the corrosive water going through the pipes. The switch resulted in lead leaching off pipes.
Now, Hoosick Falls residents are worried about intaking potentially dangerous chemicals for months — maybe even years. Many are also unhappy with Cuomo.
“We still don’t have our blood tests, so many folks don’t have point of entry treatment systems that need them,” Hoosick resident Michele Baker told News 10.
“They don’t have water test results. I mean it’s just been a failure by New York State,” she said. “This is Governor Cuomo’s chance to step up, find an acceptable health level, and protect the safety of all New Yorkers.”
Now, Congress wants answers. Chaffetz and Lummis are demanding EPA hand over documents on their handling of the PFOA problem and why it took so long for regional officials to be notified.
“Recently, EPA established a new liftetime health advisory for PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion and reiterated the health risks associated with the chemical,” they wrote to McCarthy.
“Since EPA issued this advisory, residents of Hoosick Falls have undergone blood testing for PFOA,” they wrote. “The results of these tests found that the average PFOA levels for residents of Hoosick are five times the national average and many residents found their PFOA levels exceed the limit set by EPA.”
In March, New York officials declared Hoosick’s water was safe to drink, though there’s an ongoing investigation into 11 illegal dumping sites that could have tainted the town’s water.
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