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DEC tests local landfills, Superfund sites for chemicals associated with PFOA

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    A view of the Hudson River from the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.
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    The Catskill Creek is the third-largest tributary to the tidal Hudson River. The state DEC tested two state Superfund sites in Greene County — American Valve in Coxsackie and American Thermostat in South Cairo — for potentially harmful chemicals. The DEC found no indication of the chemicals discovered in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh.
May 30, 2018 11:05 pm

The state is testing several inactive landfills and Superfund sites in the Twin Counties for hazardous chemicals that were identified as contaminants in drinking water sources in Hoosick Falls and other parts of the state.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation identified inactive landfill sites in Columbia and Greene counties to test for the chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which could cause health disorders including developmental defects in fetuses during pregnancy or to breast-fed infants, cancer, liver problems, autoimmune disorders, thyroid disorders and others, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The DEC is conducting preliminary investigations into possible contaminants at 26 inactive landfills in Columbia County and 27 inactive landfills in Greene County, DEC Region 4 Public Information Officer Rick Georgeson said.

“To date, one inactive landfill, the Hunter Landfill site, has undergone groundwater and leachate sampling,” Georgeson said. “Groundwater results at the site were below the EPA Health Advisory Level of PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion.

“Because of the relatively low concentrations observed in groundwater at the landfill, and because there are no drinking water wells within one-quarter mile of the landfill, DEC plans no further action at the site at this time.”

The DEC also tested two Superfund sites — hazardous waste sites the EPA has designated for cleanup — in Greene County: American Valve in Coxsackie and American Thermostat in Catskill. The DEC determined the sites were not sources of PFOA or PFOS contamination, Georgeson said.

“State Superfund sites in Columbia County will be sampled in the future as part of this assessment of emerging contaminants,” Georgeson said.

As the DEC tests possible sources of contamination, the EPA is stalling a study of the effects of PFOA and PFOS on public health.

U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on May 23 asking the reason the agency is slowing the release of a study on PFOA and PFOS health effects.

“Over the last three years, thousands of residents in New York have been suffering from contaminated water supplies due to PFOA,” according to Faso’s letter. “Recently, I have heard reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has slowed the release of a Department of Health and Human Services study, which details the human health impacts of PFOA and PFOS.

“If this is true, the EPA should immediately reverse course and support the release of this study upon its completion,” according to Faso’s letter. “The constituents in my district deserve to know any and all information contained within this HHS study and I encourage you to support its publication.”

Contamination of drinking water was discovered in Hoosick Falls in winter 2016, and similar contamination was found in drinking water sources in Newburgh in May 2016.

The chemicals are commonly used in cleaning products and firefighting foams, carpets and furniture.

“PFOA and PFOS are fairly ubiquitous in the environment — air, water and soil,” said David Kluesner, EPA Region 2 deputy director of public affairs. “It is likely that they have been detected in the Hudson River, similar to pharmaceuticals, given the technical advancement and availability of very low-detection limits.”

Several tributaries to the Hudson River are contaminated, said Dan Shapley, director of Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program. Riverkeeper is a nonprofit watchdog group focused on protecting the Hudson River.

“Newburgh drinking water, the Hoosick River and the Mohawk River are all tributaries to the Hudson River,” Shapley said. “And that is in no way a comprehensive list of contaminated tributaries to the river.”

Sterling Environmental Engineering, P.C., of Latham, sampled four locations in the Mohawk River and two storm drains between the Town of Colonie Landfill and the river, according to Riverkeeper’s website.

In March, the sampling identified PFOA discharged from storm drains at reported levels up to 68.3 ppt. Mohawk River water samples were reported to contain PFOA at estimated concentrations of 1 to 2 ppt. Similarly Arcadis of New York Inc. conducted sampling in the Mohawk River, where PFOA results were found to be 2 to 3 ppt. in four samples.

“There needs to be more testing of fish in the watershed,” Shapley said. “It will be very expensive considering the scope of the problem and what needs to be done.”

Riverkeeper is calling on the EPA to release its report.

“It is a really important report,” Shapley said. “It will provide much better detail, such as what is a safe-level exposure — although there is probably no safe level of exposure.”

Pruitt replied to concerns the agency slowed the release of the report in a letter dated May 21 to U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., who represents the city of Flint, where lead was discovered in drinking water in 2015.

“We need more information, not less, and we need to take action,” according to the letter. “From the beginning of my tenure, tackling [this issue] has been a priority.”