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NYSNYS NEWS: Hoosick region residents assail Cuomo, NYS Health Department response to year-old drinking water contamination crisis.
Water Scare: From left, Hoosick Falls residents Jennifer Plouffe and Michele Baker speak at Monday's press conference on the water crisis in Rensselaer County -- NYSNYS News photo

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 21) -- Residents affected by contaminated drinking water in Hoosick Falls and surrounding communities gave failing grades Monday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his handling of the now year-old crisis.

"We're frustrated with Gov. Cuomo ... obviously, we're steps away from the governor's door," said Michele Baker, of the leaders of the residents who gathered outside the governor's office in the Capitol. "No one from the governor's office has come out to speak to us."

They faulted Cuomo and the Health Department for not taking action earlier and for not adopting a lower standard for exposure to PFOA and PFOS, two industrial chemicals present in the water. They also said the state has not adequately pursued efforts to provide medical monitoring of residents and provide a new clean water source for communities.

They also criticized Senate Republicans for not releasing "subpoenaed documents from those responsible for the PFOA water contamination, including polluters Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, Taconic Plastics and Honeywell International."

"I moved to this village of Hoosick Falls which is beautiful, the people are awesome, but the water was poisoned," said Jennifer Plouffe, who condemned the Health Department for knowing of the extent of the pollution for 18 months before making that knowledge public.

"As a consequence I purchased my home without knowing that the water was contaminated," she said. "I signed my mortgage (and) the very next day found out about the water situation. Through no fault of my own, I ended up underwater on my home from the moment I signed."

Underwater refers to the value of a property being less than what is owned on the mortgage, a situation that has affected residents. Many homes in the region now have filtration equipment in their basements to remove any traces of the chemicals, an approach that residents say it is not sustainable.

Another resident, Laura Peabody, broke down in tears as she talked about children drinking the contaminated water. "My daughter, Ashlynn, has been drinking water laced with a likely carcinogen her entire life," she said. "None of us knew."

Baker said state officials are not answering phones and returning calls. "No one answers Hoosick Falls," she said. "We're angry, we're frustrated, we shouldn't have to be here asking for this. We should be home taking care of our kids, at our jobs, or grocery shopping for Thanksgiving."

"Instead, you have moms, dads, children in the NYS Capitol asking for water, a basic necessity," she said. "Water is life."

The residents said this week marked the one year anniversary of the initial notification of the community by the Environmental Protection Agency.

They urged Cuomo and legislators to put funding in the 2017-18 state budget to test water systems statewide for presence of the chemicals, lower the acceptable standards for exposure and order testing of water systems in small communities that are now exempt. They also want the state to move forward with regulating as many as 80,000 other chemicals on the market.

Besides the cluster of communities in Rensselaer County, water contamination problems are also present in Newburgh. PFOS contamination there has been traced to a nearby former U.S. Air Force base.

PFOA and PFOS are commonly found in the environmental as a result of industrial manufacturing and other uses but are not tightly regulated as a toxic. Instead, government officials issue advisories about acceptable levels of exposure.

The EPA is studying the chemicals and is expected to eventually set tighter standards.

Exposure to the chemicals in excessive amounts is thought to increase the risk of illness, including cancer and birth defects.