You’ve probably heard of the public water crisis that is going on in Flint, Michigan, but would it surprise you to learn that there is another public water mystery that has been linked to cancer in Hoosick Falls, New York?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned residents of Hoosick Falls not to drink or cook with water from municipal wells, and a plastics plant has agreed to install a $2 million carbon filtration system at the village water treatment plant.
All this stemming from a painful death at the hand of kidney cancer. Michael Hickey, whose factory working father died at 68 from kidney cancer in 2013, has made it his mission to find out why so many people in his hometown along the Hoosic River were getting sick.
His suspicions started when he noticed potential industrial pollution from a factory village near the Vermont border. His father had worked at the plant for 35 years, where high-performance plastics like Teflon are made.
A Google search of “Teflon” and “cancer” yielded one alarming result: PFOA.
Perfluorooctanoic acid, a water and oil repellent, has been used since the 1940s in products like non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and microwave popcorn bags. In 2015, manufacturers agreed to begin phasing out the use of PFOA after DuPont reached a $16.5 million settlement with the EPA over the company’s failure to report associated health risks stemming from PFOA.
The case revealed that there was a “probable link” between PFOA exposure and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
The link led locals to test the water supply, but first it had to get the local government onboard. New York state classifies POFA as an “unspecified organic contaminant” that does not require testing. As a result, there was pushback to initial requests to test the water.
Funded by his own money, Hickey had his tap and several other sources tested. The results showed that PFOA was at 540 ppt levels within Hickey’s home alone. This exceeded EPA guidelines by over 100 ppt. Village officials then tested the municipal supply and found similar POFA levels.
Lawyers were brought in, and as of mid-January, the EPA and Hoosick Falls, New York officials are working to correct the contamination problem. As of now, the village will install water filters, but are still searching for an effective long-term solution.
While the EPA and city officials work to make the town’s water safe again, residents are both angered and frightened. Residents like Kevin Allard, also a plastic plant employee, has had his mother die at the age of 54 from pancreatic cancer and his father die at 81 from thyroid cancer. He has also seen his son’s friend, a 25-year-old, die of Pancreatic cancer. His biggest fear now: the health of his children.
In their early 30s, “they grew up on that water, and that’s what concerns me most.”