High schoolers in Hoosick Falls said they are tired of the slow response by the adults in the community and government to the toxic substance Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has infiltrated the village water system and made it unsafe to drink. They took matters into their own hands and held a press conference last week during which they called on Governor Cuomo personally to act. “The adults have done a lot of talking,” said Anna Wysocki, senior class historian. “Now it’s our turn.”
The students, who designed and delivered their own PowerPoint presentation to the entire student body in the schools’ auditorium, said the town leaders, as well as state and federal governments, have been too slow to respond to water contamination deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency to be so serious they are no longer allowed to drink, cook, or bathe with it.
They called on Governor Cuomo to act and said the only acceptable solution is a new water source. “We want to take a shower without worrying about how soon we should get out,” said Wysocki, in the student’s presentation. “ We want to be able to wash off and eat off our dishes free from the threat of cancer.”
The contaminant is the chemical Perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, used in the manufacturer of Teflon, which has been linked to cancer and other illnesses. It is believed to have leaked from factories now run by St. Gobain and Honeywell and infiltrated the town’s water supply. The EPA declared the water unsafe to use last fall. Governor Cuomo’s administration, who knew about the potential problem for over a year, declared Hoosick Falls a Superfund site in late January, and classified PFOA as a hazardous substance. The students said that is not enough, they know that simply declaring something a Superfund site does not bring a swift solution, and the designation does not address the needed filtration of the water, or finding a new water source.
Cuomo, in his State of the State message four years ago, said he would be the champion of all students in New York. “I am also going to be the student lobbyist,” Cuomo said on January 4, 2012. The students said they take Cuomo at his word and expect him to put money into his state budget to build a new water supply for the town within the next year. The water at the junior high school, which sits a mile out of town, has not been declared unsafe but the students believe it is only a matter of time before the chemicals seep into the groundwater.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Thursday issued a clean-up consent order for St. Gobain and Honeywell, and said they are legally responsible for damage and remediation.
Cuomo however, cautioned about drawing any conclusions until all the facts are known. “One of the things you have to watch in a situation like this, I think, is that emotion doesn’t get ahead of the facts,” Cuomo warned. The students took offense at those remarks. Jocelyn Harwood wrote for the school newspaper, “We have every right to be concerned as we are. I don’t think it’s a matter of hysteria,” said Harwood. “I think the science is there that it’s a problem.”
Hoosick Falls Schools Superintendent Ken Facin who spoke as the grades 6 through 12 filed in for the assembly, said the children are understandably very concerned. “I think these kids are having a lot of anxiety over this issue,” said Facin, and said that the adults have not handled things well. “This has really not been handled very well at any level,” he said.
Facin, who has a degree in geology, said the school assembly and press conference was driven entirely by the students, but he said he agrees with their conclusions that a new water source is needed.
Anna Wysocki, who said people close to her in the town have died from cancer over the years, said she and the others made up their minds to act after they attended a town board meeting on February 9. She said the last straw came when town officials opted to wait until they received a recommendation from the state health department before taking any action. She said what the students want is really very simple. “Other people don’t have to worry about this sort of thing,” Wysocki said. “We just want our lives back how they used to be.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to the student’s requests. But Cuomo has characterized his response to the crisis as “aggressive,” and said the state is doing a second round of testing on wells and blood tests of those potentially exposed.
Students said if Governor Cuomo does not come to them, they will come to Albany to visit him instead.