NYS holds polluters accountable

Fossil Fuels Protest March 2016

Cuomo signs bill for Hoosick Falls

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that extends the statute of limitations for victims to sue corporate polluters for personal damages. The bill was inspired by water contamination in Hoosick Falls and was supported by NYSNA nurses who weighed in on the issue by holding press conferences and testifying at hearings. A NYSNA public health nurse in Onondaga penned an article regarding corporate liability for water contamination by corporate polluters several months ago in City and State.

In Hoosick, the main wells of the city were found contaminated by perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a chemical used in local factories manufacturing non-stick items at levels the EPA says are dangerous to human health. The factory responsible for the contaminants is now owned by Saint-Gobain and formerly owned by Honeywell.

Holding polluters accountable

The State determined that both companies were responsible for the pollution and Governor Cuomo successfully pushed the EPA to declare the factory a Superfund site. Hundreds of residents have had blood tests showing high levels of PFOA exposure, which has been linked to numerous illnesses including several kinds of cancer.

A resident of Hoosick Falls recently filed the first personal damages lawsuit against Saint Gobain and Honeywell for illnesses stemming from the contamination of the city’s water supply. James Donavan suffers from ulcerative colitis and other illnesses resulting from exposure to PFOA. His illnesses are consistent with findings on the effects of PFOA exposure, and his suit accuses the corporations of failing to protect the city’s water supply, despite knowing the potential harm to public health caused by PFOA contamination. Other lawsuits have been filed by home owners, whose property values have plummeted in Hoosick Falls because of the pollution.

Important precedent

The law signed by Governor Cuomo sets an important precedent for victims of corporate pollution in Hoosick Falls and beyond and could help to reign in corporations polluting our environment with toxic chemicals. In the name of profits, the chemical industry continued to expose the public to PFOA long after it knew the risks to human health. Their behavior is part of a dangerous pattern of corporations putting profits before public health or environmental safety. In their lust for ever-increasing margins, manufacturers often introduce new chemicals to their products before proven safe or continue to use contaminants known to be harmful. Many potentially dangerous contaminants used by agricultural and mining corporations have not yet been evaluated for safety, let alone regulated.

Oil and gas companies are among the worst polluters in the world. A recent study conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health showed that premature births increased by 40 percent when mothers lived near fracking wells in Pennsylvania. Premature births are the number one cause of infant mortality and disability in America. If other states pass legislation similar to the New York law, the extractive industry could be held accountable for these atrocious health outcomes. Our governor, wisely, has also banned fracking in our state.

Until the makeup of the U.S. Senate and House shift dramatically, these reforms will have to happen at the state level. Both the Republican controlled House and Senate have passed legislation to block updated Clean Water Act regulations intended to allow for stricter Federal regulations on water quality. More concerned with sound bytes than the safety of the American people, Republicans called the Obama administration’s attempts to safeguard our water a “Federal power grab” and said that stricter water regulations would hurt corporate interests.

Corporate interests should never be put before the health and safety of the American people. Corporations need to be held responsible for the pollution they introduce into our water supplies, into the air we breath, and into the earth we walk upon.

NYSNA nurses applaud Governor Cuomo and the NY State legislature for actions to hold corporate polluters responsible and we call on other states to follow his lead.

Contamination of Hoosick Falls’ water supply spurred Governor Cuomo to sign a law extending New York’s statute of limitations on lawsuits against corporate polluters.

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