The Rensselaer County village of Hoosick Falls has hired a renowned environmental attorney for representation as it negotiates with the companies deemed responsible for polluting water supplies. Meantime, efforts to study the chemical PFOA in New York and southern Vermont has gotten a boost from a federal grant.
After Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen was elected in March, one of the first moves of the village board was to part ways with a legal firm that had negotiated two failed settlement agreements with polluters Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell, the companies deemed responsible for polluting water supplies with the chemical PFOA.
This week, the village voted to hire Albany-based environmental attorney David Engel.
Allen said Engel brings a wealth of experience. He represented the Town of Halfmoon when it successfully secured a $5.6 million drinking water settlement with General Electric over costs related to the PCB contamination of the Hudson River.
Working with the group Healthy Hoosick Water, Engel has been a vocal opponent of the village’s past settlement proposals. Mayor Allen:
“He brings a lot of experience in terms of the environmental side of it and also a lot of understanding about PFOA,” said Allen.
Engel said his work begins with reviewing the past communication between the village and companies and the actions of the law firm formerly retained by the village.
“We’re gonna have to do some work and go back and review the full record as to what transpired transactionally between the companies and the village’s prior counsel and see how it was that the thing went so badly off the tracks,” said Engel.
Ultimately, Engel warned, the village is prepared to pursue the matter in court.
Allen cautioned an individual could potentially sue the village because it was the village that provided the polluted water.
“For myself, the first priority is the village needs to be protected and the settlement did not give that. It gave us the right to seek being protected through indemnification but that doesn’t actually mean you have indemnification so I thought that any settlement has to start with that very simple step,” said Allen.
According to Engel, negotiations will have to take into consideration numerous future scenarios related to pollution.
“We live in a litigious society, we live in litigious times. Who knows what’s lurking out there in terms of possible claims?” asked Engel.
Engel said the former village landfill should be considered in future negotiations.
“And it turns out that that’s heavily contaminated with PFOA waste, the leachate coming out of that landfill has high levels of PFOA, a nearby pond has high levels of PFOA. That undoubtedly is going to require a further response,” he said.
The study of PFOA in upstate New York and across the border in Southern Vermont is getting a boost.
Bennington College has been awarded a $300,000 grant to continue its studies of PFOA.
The award from the National Science Foundation to faculty members David Bond, Janet Foley, and Tim Schroeder will expand the work for three more years.
Bond says the ability to study contamination issues across state boundaries is unique.
“So we’re not only researching PFOA in Vermont and New York and the impacted communities there, but we’re also trying provide a forum for those communities to talk to one another, engage one another, and also learn about one another,” said Bond.
A PFOA summit was recently held on the Bennington campus.
The grant will also allow Union College in Schenectady to come on as a research partner.
Laura McManus-Spencer, a chemistry professor at Union College, has studied PFOA for a decade. She said the partnership will allow Union students to obtain real-world experience in the classroom and also meet and communicate with people affected by contamination.
“You know, that we’re not just holed up in a lab somewhere doing these analyses and then spitting out these scientific reports that don’t mean anything to anyone, but really helping the community members understand what the results mean,” said McManus-Spencer.