Here’s an update to my November post, Not My Tap:
The residents of Hoosick Falls, NY and the surrounding region might soon have no one to call, not even ghostbusters. While the decision on a federal class action law suit is pending, a settlement agreement between the town and the poisoners is on the table. And it’s not friendly. Thanks to Brendan J. Lyons (@brendan_lyonstu) for great reporting throughout the ordeal.
This is not a national story, but it is a local calamity oft-repeated around the country. Companies are forced to defend their existence and profits, while the little man suffers ill health, premature death, or financial ruin without recourse. In the middle are politicians, state and federal regulators, and corporate soldiers following orders. Alas, it is a story well-worn, beaten down.
And it’s a scenario that is NOT going away any time soon, possibly coming to your neighborhood, if not already gurgling in your water supply. So, pay attention.
A few years ago, lethally high levels of PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) were found to have contaminated the water supply of Hoosick Falls, a sleepy hamlet 30-miles north of Albany. The culprit was a local factory that provided decades of good jobs and economic stability, as a manufacturer of Teflon-coated cookware and other plastics. Unfortunately, we all know where this story goes. Only after billions of pots, pans and spatulas are sold do we learn that PFOA will kill you. Slowly.
It’s critical to point out that this discovery came at the hand of a local citizen – not the county or state DEP, not the EPA – who lost his father to cancer. He sent a water sample to an independent lab. And BAM!
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs seek unspecified damages to pay for early detection monitoring, primarily blood tests, as well as the future costs of illness linked to the water contamination. Already dozens of people, including children, have tested positive for toxic levels of PFOA in their bloodstreams. Additionally, the plaintiffs seek monetary compensation for their severely diminished property values. Considering that local banks have suspended issuing home mortgages, and the EPA has recently designated a number of locations in the region, including the factory, as Superfund sites, I would say that beef is legitimate, too.
The defendants in this case, Saint Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell, Inc., seek a dismissal of the case altogether, mainly on the strength of legal-ese. Distinguishing between the legal definition of “exposure” and “injury” will likely determine how the health risk portion of the suit is decided. Under current NY State law, companies are only responsible to pay for damages caused by injury. As for property values, the argument from the defense relies on the fact that PFOA does not cause physical harm to “wells, pipes, taps, or showerheads.” Sure, they got that going for them.
Notice how there is NO ARGUMENT that PFOA has infiltrated the bodies and homes of the plaintiffs. Isn’t that kind of like saying, “tough shit, Hoosick Falls, you’re on your own?”
It’s safe to believe that a decision favorable to the plaintiffs could run in the millions, if not tens of millions of dollars. Sounds about right, possibly even fair. Well, keep your eyes in their eye sockets, the defendants have offered to settle for $850,000. And part of this agreement includes no future legal recourse from the plaintiffs.
Not far from all sides of this human debacle lingers state regulators, politicians, and the EPA. The finger of blame is being pointed in multiple directions, with “not my fault” as the supportive argument. It’s a timeless defense. Reminds me of when I was a kid, no more than 8 years old. My best buddy and I got nabbed for “leaking” non-potable fluids in the backyard. And when his mom asked me, “Why’d you do that?” I only had one response, repeated multiple times, “well, Chris did it, too.” Deflect blame to escape responsibility.
At the end of the day, where does this leave the harmed citizens of Hoosick, today or 30-years from now? Let’s assume that they do not agree to the settlement. Even if the judge rules for the plaintiffs, unending appeals can delay or drastically shrink the final damages (see Exxon, Chris Christie, and NJ). Meanwhile, human beings will suffer, either with actual sickness, or the outsized fear of developing cancer hovering over their daily lives.
Let me be clear. Are you ready to find out, decades after the fact, that your water supply is poisoned? The unfortunate truth is this, too, could be you. Overnight, kiss goodbye the value of home and property. Wonder and worry about your health, or the wellbeing of your loved ones. Every sniffle will send a cancer shiver down your spine.
I cannot pronounce this more urgently: LEARN where your water comes from, what’s in it, and who is responsible for its quality and delivery. INVEST in water filtration, or start a petition in your neighborhood to promote the crazy idea that filters must be distributed by your water treatment provider. Do something, be proactive. The sad truth is we must fight to protect our water and our health. Delay or ignore is now at your own peril.
Photo credit: iLoveMountains.org