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New York Water Contamination Lawyers: Hoosick Falls and Feuding Governments – Nobody’s Right if Everybody’s Wrong

Last week, we were presented with a spectacle that might have been amusing – unless, that is, you’re one of the thousands of victims of the contamination of drinking water with the dangerous chemical PFOA, or one of its equally toxic “cousins.”

The almost comic scene featured various New York state officials and the federal Environmental Protection Agency pointing fingers of blame at each other for the widespread PFOA pollution in Hoosick Falls, New York and its effects on users of municipal and private water supplies.

The slow reaction to the problem by New York’s Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation was the subject of a recent hearing before the General Assembly.  State officials blamed the EPA for “failing to regulate PFOA for 15 years and then changing the recommendations on how to handle PFOA contamination …”  The State even announced that it would seek reimbursement from the EPA for millions of dollars it spends to remediate the problem, which, in the first place, was only discovered through the efforts of private citizens.

EPA shot back that, for months before the Hoosick Falls disaster became public, it had advised the State (and the Village of Hoosick Falls) to warn residents not to drink the water.  The Regional Administrator said “{I}t is extremely unfortunate that the State chose not to advise EPA of its apparent decision not to follow EPA’s advice.”

Here’s the sad truth that removes this inter-governmental quarrel from the “funny” category:  both sides have a point, but both sides miss the most important point.

It is true that EPA should not have allowed the corporate makers of PFOA to hoodwink the public regarding the chemical’s dangers for decades, and that the federal government’s inaction helped lull local regulators to sleep.  It is also true that the Hoosick Falls problem was made even worse by the state’s insistence that all was well, and that consumers could go on drinking a toxic, albeit unregulated substance.

The smoke generated by the argument between regulators obscures the most important lesson to be learned from the experience with PFOA.  Powerful corporations are not inclined to tell the full truth about dangerous, but profitable products, and will always try to influence the position of regulators.  This is particularly true when it comes to the manufacture of chemicals, most of which remain untested and unregulated.  Moreover, it was not the State of New York, the Village government or the EPA that put PFOA in the water of Hoosick Falls.  The primary responsibility for that rests with the corporations that used the chemical and discharged it into the community’s environment.

As we come to grips with the wide array of serious environmental problems engulfing us, we should begin to see the basic elements of any solution:  consistent government regulation independent of corporate influence, and the enforcement of corporate accountability.

By Gerald Williams, Esq.

Contact the Environmental Toxic Tort Lawyers at Williams Cedar – Representing Clients Nationwide

Environmental Toxic Tort Lawyers at Willams Cedar represent communities effected by contaminated drinking water. For more information contact us online, or call us at 215-557-0099 or 856-470-9777