by Doug La Rocque
An agreement between the plaintiffs in the federal class-action suit and three of the four companies blamed for the PFOA contamination of the Hoosick Falls area water sources, was announced on Wednesday, July 21. The agreement will result in payment of $65.25 million.
Rochester based attorney Stephen Schwarz, who was one of the lead attorney’s in the negotiations, tells The Eastwick Press, “this is a very happy outcome.” He outlined the three sections of the accord as a compensatory package to pay for medical screening of both current and former residents for potential health problems related to their exposure to PFOA and any other chemicals that are part of the overall PFAS family. The settlement will also compensate residential home owners for losses in property values. According to Mr. Schwarz, $7.7 million is earmarked for what he labeled as “Nuisance Damages.” This money would be available for residents whose drinking water comes from a private well that was contaminated, forcing them to use bottled water until filtration systems were installed. Residents on the Village water systems are excluded from this provision by state law according to a prior ruling by the court.
A fund of $21 million is set aside for those whose property (approximately 1,300 within the Village and 500 in the Town of Hoosick) has been devalued by the PFOA stigma. Schwarz says the estimate is that each homeowner will receive approximately 9-10% of the fair market value of the home according to the 2015 Hoosick Town tax roll.
To many, medical monitoring has been of a primary concern. The proposal sets aside $23 million to develop a 10 year program that screens for a multitude of health issues associated with PFOA exposure, including but not limited to kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy related hypertension and elevated leaves of cholesterol and uric acid. To qualify, a person must have been drinking from a polluted water source in the Town for at least six months between 1996 and 2016 and have a measured PFOA level in their blood of 1.86 parts per billion or higher. Schwarz said 1.86 is considered background level and there are approximately 2,000 residents whose blood levels were measured above that level, many by an order of magnitude or higher.
This program will be administered by medical professionals, and provided referrals for any medical conditions that might be detected. This program does not pay for future treatments, that could be part of a separate litigation as class members will have a right to sue in the future if they develop one of these conditions.
Notification To Residents
According to Attorney Schwarz, notice to those who may become part of this settlement will be done by direct mail, social media, publication and a dedicated website. If one does not want to be part of the class action proceedings they must opt out. Or, there is the right to object to the settlement, should someone not agree with the terms put forth.
Village resident Mike Hickey is credited with discovering the PFOA contamination, a task he undertook following his father’s death from kidney cancer. John Hickey lived near and worked at the Saint Gobain plant on McCaffery Street in Hoosick Falls for better than 30 years. Mike tells The Eastwick Press “I am very happy this issue is coming to an acceptable close for all parties involved. It has been a long journey for everyone.
I think the polluters have put forth an agreement that will ensure that our health is safely monitored from PFOA related issues and that is more important than any monetary figure.
I am also pleased the property owners that were impacted will be compensated for the loss of value as well. It is a big step in making our community whole again.
Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen sent out a press release that said “the announced settlement in the federal class-action lawsuit between residents of Hoosick Falls and Saint-Gobain, Honeywell, and 3M is a landmark moment in the entire Hoosick Falls PFOA story. By providing compensation for victims of PFOA contamination and property owners, and by setting up a decade-long medical monitoring program, this settlement is a major step forward in righting a decades-long wrong that was inflicted upon this great community.
While this class-action lawsuit is separate from the pursuit of a new water source by the Village of Hoosick Falls and our ongoing discussions with the companies, it is a welcome development. It appears to represent a change in the approach that has been taken up this point by the companies. This is an outcome that is consistent with recognized science, common sense, and fundamental principles of justice and fairness. We hope that the companies will now work with the Village and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation in a productive manner to finally resolve all of the issues pertaining to the Village’s water supply system.”
The Mayor added “I am personally grateful to all involved: the residents who opened up their lives to legal scrutiny and the attorneys who fought on behalf of the victims. We as a Village Government stand ready to assist in getting information out to residents when the time comes.”
This preliminary agreement will be the subject of information sessions and hearings before a federal judge could make it final with his/her signature.
Dupont has so far refused to agree to the settlement, and a class-action suit against that company is still proceeding toward a trail.