NYSNA member Wendy Czajak, RN, a licensed public health nurse in Onondaga County, recently wrote an op-ed, published in The New York Slant calling for a coordinated public health response to the current water crisis in Hoosick Falls, a small town 35 miles northeast of Albany, where municipal water was found polluted with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
The culprit is a local factory that uses the chemical to make Teflon. When PFOA makes its way into wells, aquifers and reservoirs that feed our drinking water, the effects endure for many years, and result in a public health emergency.
Governor Cuomo ordered tests of the village water supply, which showed the presence of PFOA, and his administration pressed the federal EPA to designate Hoosick Falls a Superfund site and to designate PFOA a “hazardous substance.” A new municipal carbon filtration system was installed which removes PFOA. However, there are still many residents who rely on private wells for their water, and some of these wells have tested positive for PFOA.
Serious health effects
In her op-ed, Ms. Czajak wrote, “My colleagues and I in the healthcare field see the damage and pain caused by pollution on a daily basis. We join with the many sickened and those living in fear in calling for companies to be held responsible for the release of PFOA into water supplies.”
The Hoosick Falls contamination came to light last summer when the current owner of the town’s factory, Paris-based Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, conducted tests on the groundwater under its plant. Results showed a PFOA level of 18,000 parts per trillion — more than 50 times the acceptable level. The plant is a mere 500 yards from the village’s main water wells.
The chemical industry has known for years of the dangers posed by PFOA. The NYS Department of Health links it to testicular and kidney cancer, thyroid disease and birth defects in infants.
DuPont, one of the largest producers, made huge profits before entering into a consent agreement with the EPA in 2005, which referenced “the movement of PFOA from pregnant women to their babies (and) the contamination of drinking water supplies.” PFOA has shown up in water supplies in 29 states. It most often gets there when factories dump in landfills or storm drains adjacent to water supplies or through smokestack emissions.
Hold polluters accountable
Public health nurses are on the frontline of water safety and NYSNA RNs are ready to help Hoosick Falls residents and any others suffering from the effects of pollution. NYSNA is calling on the corporate polluters to pay for the contamination they have created.
There is no life without clean water. When polluters destroy the quality of our water and air, they destroy the health of our communities. “These companies must be held liable for damages and for cleanup under the law. New Yorkers deserve nothing less,” wrote Ms. Czajak.