Federal investigation launched in PFOA contamination crisis

HOOSICK FALLS -- A House oversight committee is launching a federal investigaton in light of the water contamination crisis in Hoosick Falls.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent letters to both Governor Cuomo and the Environmental Protection Agency asking for any and all information related to the water issues in that community.

Michele Baker has been helping lead the charge against the water crisis in Hoosick Falls and is now celebrating two victories that came almost simultaneously: The announcement of the federal probe and the Assembly announcing water quality hearings for September.

"This is another win for Hoosick Falls. I mean absolutely. We are finally going to get the answers that we deserve," Baker said.

The two letters from the federal oversight committee ask Cuomo and the EPA for all documents and communications relating to Hoosick Falls and the chemical that has been tainting the water there, PFOA.

The letters say there is evidence that state and county officials knew about the contamination as early as August of 2014, when they were contacted by the village, but people were not told to stop drinking the water until December of 2015.

"That timelapse, that could have meant the difference between a serious disease, maybe even life or death for some folks," Baker said.

The federal investigation comes after Congressman Chris Gibson called on the House of Representatives to hold federal hearings. Gibson told CBS6 over the phone from Washington D.C. that he is still pushing for that.

"[The federal investigation] could very well set the stage, through this deposition process, it could very well set the stage for hearings," Gibson said.

The letters set a July 20th deadline for the governor and the EPA to produce the documents. The hearings would give the Assembly and the House subpoena power.

"They have a couple of months to get their house in order and they better come prepared to answer these questions because I certainly have them as do the people of hoosick falls," Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-Troy) said. "If they begin to haul people down to Washington under subpoena and you're under oath I think that they're going to expose a lot of what went on."

But both McLaughlin and Gibson are concerned about the governor's 90-day email deletion policy, which may have done away with key pieces of information being sought in this case.

"If they were following their own guidelines and deleting those emails, they are going to have a very difficult time reproducing the emails that the EPA is going to be able to reproduce, that the county and that the village are absolutely going to be able to reproduce," McLaughlin said. "That policy is designed for one thing: To keep the public in the dark."

Governor Cuomo's office released the following statement: "States across the country have struggled to confront evolving information about PFOA and other emerging contaminants, particularly in the face of shifting guidelines and the absence of regulation from the federal government. We will gladly share our experience in New York to clarify the facts and the steps we have taken to address these challenges. We hope the end result is that Congress and the federal government act swiftly to prioritize and to implement uniform, nationwide regulations of PFOA and similar, currently unregulated contaminants. No town, city, or state should have to fear the water they are drinking. With clear federal regulations, we can achieve that goal."

Hoosick Falls Mayor David Borge says both the hearings and the federal investigation are a positive thing for his community and he is both willing and ready to participate.

Hoosick Falls is also under water restrictions because of an electrical issue at the Water Treatment Plant but Borge says all of the water going to people's homes is filtered and safe to drink. He says the restrictions should be lifted Friday when the issue is expected to be fixed.

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