Erin Brockovich speaks to Hoosick Falls residents
BENNINGTON -- A crowd that exceeded 1,000 packed the Greenwall Auditorium on the campus of Bennington College in Vermont to hear from environmental activist Erin Brockovich. A number of residents of Hoosick Falls sent e-mail messages to Brockovich asking her to help in the issue of the village's contaminated water supply. "We are here to talk about legal recourse, we'll talk about government issues about, about the banks that are not lending money right now and about health issues," Ms. Brockovich said. After making an opening statement Brockovich invited audience members to ask questions and make comments. One woman took the microphone that was being passed around and asked who in the audience was diagnosed with cancer or had a relative diagnosed with cancer in the last fifteen years. Dozens of hands immediately extended skyward.
Last month the Environmental Protection Agency urged residents of Hoosick Falls not to drink or cook with the tap water. This is because testing of the village's water detected levels of the chemical PFOA that made the water unfit for human consumption. On Wednesday the Cuomo administration announced that PFOA was being classified as a hazardous substance and the Saint-Gobain plastics facility was being classified as a state superfund site. These measures are intended to unlock state funds to bring about short and long term fixes to the water crisis.
For more than 20 years Brockovich has worked in several US cities grappling with water contamination issues. "I have been doing this for 22 years, but it is the underlying deception that winds up being the root cause of every one of these issues, whether here in Hoosick Falls, New York and all across the United States. Because of fear or greed somebody concealed something and years later a community finds out it has been drinking poisoned water and the death of my loved one or animal makes sense to me," Ms. Brockovich said. Lori Stewart has lived in Hoosick Falls for all but six years of her life. She has endured the death of a dog and seven cats. "Going over the history I'm looking deeper at it, seven of them have died of cancer, four of them were treated for thyroid conditions," Ms. Stewart said.
The event was organized by the high powered New York City law firm Weitz & Luxenberg. Brockovich is a paid consultant for the firm. Brockovich was joined on the rostrum by lawyers of the firm who are interested in representing village residents in a possible class action lawsuit. Musician George Villarini, a Hoosick Falls resident since 1979, is leaning towards litigation. "I'm probably 75-25 right now yes; all my children were raised here. They don't live here anymore and they all have little problems. I have one daughter who cannot get pregnant. Is the water the cause? I don't know. I am not making any accusation but I just would like to know," Mr. Villarini said.
Before arriving at Bennington College for the noon to 2 p.m. town hall Brockovich went on a tour of Hoosick Falls. She said the village was charming and that the water crisis that now dominates the lives of the residents made her sad.