Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s appearance in Hoosick Falls last week could very well be the turning point for the small town in Rensselaer County to get the help it needs.
It has been two years since it was discovered that the Hoosick Falls water supply had been contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical used in non-stick coatings, by the Saint-Gobain and Honeywell companies.
Residents made it clear in the town hall meeting hosted by Gillibrand that they remain frustrated about the state’s response and lack of concern about their health.
Sen. Gillibrand, wiping away tears at times, said she would like the state to pass new legislation that would allow residents affected by the contamination to receive monitoring in the long term, much in the way Ground Zero first-responders were monitored after the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City.
At first glance, it seems like a good idea, but detailed studies of how much the contamination has impacted residents’ health could take decades. The long-term health effects of PFOA have not been studied to anywhere near the extent of something like lead.
In addition, the comparison to first responders at Ground Zero doesn’t work. First responders experienced a far more intense initial exposure and the effects surfaced soon afterward.
Regardless, the visit by a sitting U.S. senator got Hoosick Falls residents’ attention and action from their state Legislature.
It was clear at the town hall meeting that many Hoosick Falls residents are at the end of their ropes with the foot-dragging at the state level.
The response has been so bungled that a congressional oversight committee rode to the rescue this past week and demanded documents from the Cuomo administration related to the water contamination.
You know you are in trouble when Congress is the cavalry.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, questioned why the state had told residents that their water was safe.
It is an excellent and overdue question that residents deserve to have answered.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has defended the actions of his administration on one hand, while wondering why the EPA has not done more. Congress is asking that question, too.
What we fear now is that every politician facing re-election in November — that would be the entire state Legislature — is now screaming to get answers for Hoosick Falls while making themselves look good.
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Until the federal government got involved, the New York State Legislature didn’t want to do anything.
While Hoosick Falls residents have been able to count on Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin to fight for hearings in the Assembly, their representative in the Senate — Sen. Kathy Marchione — has been asking for a task force instead. But nothing came of that either.
When your own elected representative shows little inclination to get to the bottom of a serious health crisis in her own district, you know you are in trouble.
To say Sen. Marchione has been indecisive would be kind. In June, she proposed legislation that would allow people harmed by contamination to bring a lawsuit against the polluters. But a day later, she amended the legislation, essentially gutting the bill.
Hoosick Falls residents called her a “Benedict Arnold” on social media and environmentalist/actor Mark Ruffalo tweeted her actions were “disgusting.”
Marchione didn’t stick to her guns long, doing another about-face the next day and saying the original bill was her top priority.
With the outcry mounting at the federal level, our state political leaders did what they do best — they tried to save face.
Days before Gillibrand’s appearance, the state Assembly overcame its initial reluctance to hold hearings on the crisis in Hoosick Falls and moved forward.
Two days later, just minutes after Sen. Gillibrand’s town hall meeting ended, the state Senate announced it would hold hearings as well.
Better late than never.
What Hoosick Falls residents should especially fear is that the politicization of the water contamination issue will lead to lots of empty promises right up until the day after the election.
The question we’re asking, and we suspect the people of Hoosick Falls are asking, is not what took them so long, but whether any of this will get them the help they need.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Terry Coomes, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Tom Portuese.