To the Editor:
I am writing this both as a private resident of the Town of Petersburgh and as Water District Superintendent. I have lived in this town since 1967 and except for three years, have been living and drinking the municipal water that the Town provides. As an employee of the town, I see what our Town Board has to go through dealing with the PFOA issue, and I have heard the concerns of many. I myself am concerned, having been exposed to this contaminate through the years, not so much for myself, but for my children, who were born and raised here.
Handling this crisis will require thought and patience. Nobody has any experience in a matter such as this – who would? The Town Board is open to any worthwhile suggestions and ideas to help with this type of emergency.
To that end, I do have suggestions for the residents in the Town of Petersburgh. As was eloquently stated at the Town Board meeting Monday night, it seems that DEC and other state agencies have lost interest in our town. Supervisor Schaaphok said that he has tried to contact officials from DEC and received no response. The same is true in my situation, as I have emailed acting Commissioner Seggos and also have received no response. Last week, I found out that there is a portable emergency filtration unit that the New York State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has in its possession. Rich Winters, from New York Rural Water Association, who was helping me at the time with a leak, made a phone call on behalf of the Town, and I have made several attempts to get answers. I am only told that they are looking into it to see if it can be modified to be used as a temporary filtration system for the town’s municipal water supply. What has me upset somewhat, is that without this being brought to my attention by chance, we would never have known about this and inquired about it. The OEM should have been here seeking to deploy their portable filtration system at the onset of this emergency, not when I found out about it and made the phone call. After all, this is what they were set up for.
As a town official and as a resident, I am very upset that OEM did not respond to our emergency, and has never contacted us. We have been contacted by various state agencies, including the Governor’s office, and Rensselaer County officials have spent a lot of time working with us, but we have heard nothing from OEM. It is quite apparent, at this juncture, that the Town of Petersburgh is not important enough to warrant the help that it deserves in the face of this crisis.
The most helpful government agency in this situation has been Rensselaer County. They have been doing a lot of the testing, have been drawing up maps, have come out to explain what is going on and to answer questions. RCDOH Rich Elder has been coordinating this, and is doing as good a job as can be expected, given the circumstances. He calls with results either during the week or during the weekend, informing residents of results from their wells, and answering any questions they might have.
DEC has made a lot of promises, and very few of them have been fulfilled. Runoff from the capped landfill was supposed to be tested, and the river was supposed to be tested, various soil samples were supposed to be taken around the area, etc. Lots of promises, but not much action from DEC.
So, there is a level of frustration, not only by the Town Board, but by residents as well. We are all beginning to realize how unimportant a small community like Petersburgh is to the State. We are not the size of Hoosick Falls, our municipal water system only handles about 79 homes. We have a population of about 1500, a small community compared to most of the towns and villages in New York.
Town Councilman Alan Webster stated it well at the Town Board meeting on Monday, April 18. We need to get very pro-active if we are going to get anything done. We need to get the State’s attention. Have you ever been at a picnic on a mid-summers day and even though the day is nice, there is that pesky deer fly that keeps irritating you? That is what we need to become, the pesky deer fly that will not go away. To that effect, I ask the residents of Petersburgh to write and call constantly to our representatives in Government. Do not give up. Let’s make our voices heard! I will ask that the Town post on its website and also put out a notice on the bulletin board all the members of Congress, state officials, DEC officials, the Governor’s office, and any other official that needs to be contacted and reminded that we have a situation here that is an emergency and that something needs to be done. We will have to fight to be heard, but like the pesky deer fly that won’t go away, we will force their hand to get the help we need.
To that end, I have a few requests that I would like the state to address:
A state PFOA standard should be adopted. The EPA’s standard of 100 ppt is unacceptable. That is a short term exposure limit (1 month) for an adult. We are told that the state will adopt a standard. When? Why is it taking so long? NJ has adopted a standard of 40 ppt; Vermont, 20; Maine, 10. I would like to see zero.
Start a health study in this area. There does seem to be a higher than normal cancer and MS rate in this area. Also, there have been some birth defects. Are these related to PFOA? Are these higher than normal incidences compared to the general population?
Can the testing of wells be accelerated? It is apparent that there is widespread contamination beyond the village’s boundaries. Residents are worried for their families and livestock.
We were promised a comprehensive hydrological study of the aquifer. Why hasn’t that been started?
I am sure there are many more questions that should be asked and answered. It is time for us, as residents, as family members, as a community to push for the help and answers we need.
Petersburgh Water Superintendent