PETERSBURGH, N.Y. >> Taconic Plastics is the party responsible for contaminating groundwater with PFOA, according to state environmental officials.
The company's Coon Brook Road plant was declared a state Superfund site on Thursday, a move Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials said gives the agency more authority to hold the company accountable for clean-up costs.
New York's actions coincide with the EPA issuing a lower acceptable level of PFOA in drinking water. The federal level is now 70 parts per trillion (ppt), down from 400 ppt.
The man-made chemical formerly used to make Teflon was found in private wells and a small municipal water system in the town of 1,500.
"Protecting public health and the environment remains the number one priority in Petersburgh, and the state and our local partners have moved swiftly to bring clean, safe drinking water to all residents of the town as quickly as possible," DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement. "As our investigation continues and we learn more about the extent of the contamination, we will take aggressive actions to hold the responsible party accountable for all costs associated with full remediation of all impacted areas."
The announcement is "another step in what has been a long process for the company and the Petersburgh community," Jon Pierce, a spokesman for Taconic, said in a statement.
Pierce said tests Taconic conducted ten years ago found PFOA. The company then provided state and county agencies with results, installed filters on their facility's wells and provided bottled water to employees and company-owned residences. In January, company representatives met with county and state officials to discuss additional actions Taconic should take.
"DEC's selection of the Superfund Program to oversee the cleanup will not affect Taconic's continued cooperation in addressing this matter to protect our neighbors, employees and the community," Pierce said.
Taconic has already agreed to some demands from the governor's office and DEC. The company is paying to install carbon filter systems on private homes and a system for the municipal water supply is expected to be done this summer.
A spokesman for the Rensselaer County Department of Health said in response to the new health advisory of 70 ppt, Taconic will install treatment systems on eight additional private wells for a total of about 55.
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, has been linked to cancer and other diseases. Hoosick Falls residents were told not to consume tap water for months after PFOA was found in the village municipal system and it's unclear how long it was there. The state required factory owner Saint-Gobain provide bottled water and install filtration systems on public and private systems in the village and town of Hoosick. PFOA has also been found in private wells in North Bennington, Vt. and Pownal, Vt. and a municipal water system serving part of Pownal.
The new health advisory for 70 ppt of PFOA and similar chemical PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) in drinking water reflects "the most up-to-date information," a spokesperson for the EPA said. Drinking water with 70 ppt or less of PFOA, according to the EPA, "is not expected to result in adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure. These levels reflect a margin of protection, including for the most sensitive populations."
The EPA's "guidance level" of 400 ppt was issued in 2009. In January, EPA's Region 2 office told private well owners around Hoosick that a health advisory for lifetime exposure was being developed and advised they not drink their tap water if levels were 100 ppt or above. Vermont's acceptable level is 20 ppt.
Scientists and politicians have pointed to new science around PFOA, one of many chemicals the EPA calls an "emerging contaminaint," and have called for stricter regulation. A science panel found a "probable link" between PFOA, also known as C8, and testicular and kidney cancer.
In a joint statement, Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker both of their agencies are pleased over the new level and "are thoroughly reviewing EPA's guidance as we continue our aggressive efforts to ensure that all communities in New York State have access to water that's safe to drink."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979