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NYSNYS NEWS: Gillibrand meeting on Hoosick Falls water crisis opens with walkout by residents. She does not mention Cuomo, but faults government handling of situation.
NYSNYS NEWS: Gillibrand meeting on Hoosick Falls water crisis opens with walkout by residents. She does not mention Cuomo, but faults government handling of situation.

By Kyle Hughes

HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. (July 8) -- A meeting hosted by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on the PFOA water crisis got off to a rough start Friday as residents walked out in anger after the opening speaker said hearings on the contamination were unnecessary.

"In my opinion we really don't need a hearing," said resident Michael Hickey, who is credited with bringing the pollution threat to light after his father's cancer death prompted him to get their drinking water tested.

His remarks prompted gasps of disbelief and a walkout by three women, Desiree Rice, and Jennifer and Connie Plouffe. "Nothing against these people (on Gillibrand's panel), but they can't answer my questions," said Michele Baker, who was sitting with the three and didn't walk out but was livid. "This is catering to Gillibrand."

A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee has opened an investigation into the water crisis and both houses of the Legislature are planning hearings. Senator Kathy Marchione (R-Halfmoon) announced at the end of Gillibrand's roundtable that the Senate will hold hearings in August.

"The first hearing is going to be here in Hoosick Falls and we will be announcing other hearings at a later time," she said.

The hour long meeting before several hundred people in Hoosick Falls Central School's auditorium focused on personal stories from local residents about the impact of contaminated water supplies in Hoosick Falls and Petersburg. Some cried as they told of being frightened about their childrens' health.

Panelists included Pat Breysse of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, who said he has also been helping residents of Flint, Michigan, poisoned by drinking water. He said the stories he heard about the fears of Hoosick area residents are "devastating ... People want to trust their water."

He said the problems in Hoosick Falls, Petersburg and over the nearby Vermont border will help draw attention to the fact that contaminated drinking water is a national crisis. "I'm hoping whatever we do, we can redouble our efforts and just do better," he said.

Roundtable participants, who included two students, touched upon the fears and worries they have not knowing the extent of the threat to the community and the health of residents.

Anna Wysocki, a 2016 Hoosick Falls graduate, read a statement describing herself in the third person as a "scared little girl" and said the most shocking part of the crisis is that state officials did not issue warnings to not drink the water after the chemical pollution was discovered. She said it appeared officials ran away from residents and took the easy way out.

"We are really people and it's a shame we haven't been treated as such," she said, declaring that "for the rest of our lives Hoosick Falls and Petersburg residents will live in fear."

Baker said anyone with questions had to fill out a form to be pre-selected, and that some of the community leaders were not invited to participate in the roundtable panel. Instead, the panel appeared to be stacked, they said, particularly with school employees and people with other ties to the district.

"I had to write a question on a piece of paper as a resident of this town," Bakers said. "That's an outrage."

Gillibrand said afterwards that any one who submitted a written question would get a response.

She did not criticize the Cuomo administration's handling of the crisis but said "it is wrong of the government not to be able to protect our families. No place in America, no place in this state should families have worry about the drinking water that comes out of their faucets."

Gillibrand visit will likely put more pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do more to ease community fears about the health impacts of the contaminated water.

Beside response teams from the Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation, Cuomo has dispatched aides to help local officials and talk to affected residents. But he has made only one quick trip here, appearing on a Sunday morning in March with little advance notice. That resulted in a small turnout of local residents and media.

Groundwater has been contaminated by PFOA, a commonly used industrial chemical that leaked from manufacturing operations here. The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate the chemical, but has issued an advisory saying people should avoid drinking water with elevated PFOA levels.