An Industrial Chemical Poisoned Their Water, Now Upstate New Yorkers Want to Know What Replaced It

Tracy Frisch October 3, 2017

In 2016, researchers found unsafe levels of toxic industrial chemicals—including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), widely used to create non-stick products such as Teflon—in the drinking water of 6 million Americans.

Indus­try and gov­ern­ment offi­cials say per­flu­o­rooc­tanoic acid (PFOA), the tox­ic chem­i­cal blamed for con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing drink­ing water sup­plies in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and sev­er­al oth­er area com­mu­ni­ties, is no longer used in man­u­fac­tur­ing in the Unit­ed States. 

But if PFOA has been phased out, what are indus­tries using in its place?

Peo­ple like Sil­via Pot­ter would like to know the answer to that ques­tion for the two Saint-Gob­ain Per­for­mance Plas­tics plants that still oper­ate in Hoosick Falls. Pot­ter says peo­ple in her com­mu­ni­ty know absolute­ly noth­ing” about the iden­ti­ty of the chem­i­cal or chem­i­cals the com­pa­ny is using as a replace­ment for PFOA.

The lack of infor­ma­tion has been frus­trat­ing for her and oth­er mem­bers of their local advo­ca­cy group, NY Water Project. 

We only know what the com­pa­ny vol­un­teers,” she says. 

Per­flu­o­rooc­tanoic acid (PFOA), wide­ly used for decades in the mak­ing of non­stick coat­ings like Teflon and a vari­ety of oth­er con­sumer prod­ucts, is con­sid­ered tox­ic even in tiny amounts. PFOA has been linked to can­cer, birth defects and immune sys­tem dysfunction. 

In 2006, eight major chem­i­cal com­pa­nies, includ­ing 3M and DuPont, entered into a vol­un­tary stew­ard­ship agree­ment” with the U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) to phase out the pro­duc­tion and use of PFOA by 2015. In its place, the indus­try switched to oth­er chem­i­cals in the same fam­i­ly that were deemed less haz­ardous by the EPA. But late­ly a vari­ety of experts have begun to believe that these new chem­i­cals also pose grave threats to human health. 

Remark­ably, it’s not clear whether gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors — or even com­pa­nies like Saint-Gob­ain — know the spe­cif­ic chem­i­cal iden­ti­ties of the sub­stances being sub­sti­tut­ed for PFOA. In response to ques­tions for this sto­ry, Saint-Gob­ain issued a state­ment say­ing it has relied on its sup­pli­ers to pro­vide replace­ment chem­i­cals for PFOA and that the com­po­si­tion of these chem­i­cals in the case of some sup­pli­ers may be proprietary.”

At pub­lic meet­ings, Pot­ter says she and oth­er mem­bers of NY Water Project have asked ques­tions at every appro­pri­ate moment” about what sub­stances have replaced PFOA. But the infor­ma­tion they have sought hasn’t been forthcoming. 

We’re just assured that every­thing is safe,” she says. This con­cerns us, because things went wrong once. We wouldn’t even know about PFOA if it weren’t for Michael Hick­ey and his deter­mi­na­tion to get to the bot­tom of these mys­te­ri­ous ill­ness­es. I believe the town owes Michael a debt of gratitude.” 

Hickey’s father, who for many years worked at one of the local Saint-Gob­ain plants, died of kid­ney can­cer. It was Hick­ey who thought to test the vil­lage of Hoosick Falls’ water for PFOA in 2014, reveal­ing the village’s water con­t­a­m­i­na­tion prob­lem for the first time. 

Whistle­blow­er Michael Hick­ey per­son­al­ly test­ed Hoosick Falls’ water in 2014 after his father, John, died of kid­ney can­cer. (Image: cbs6al​bany​.com)

Change for the better?

PFOA is some­times called C‑8, for its chain of eight car­bon atoms, each bond­ed to flu­o­rine. The car­bon-flu­o­rine bond is extreme­ly strong, mak­ing PFOA vir­tu­al­ly inde­struc­tible. So it stays in the envi­ron­ment essen­tial­ly for­ev­er: It doesn’t degrade in water or soil, and plants and ani­mals don’t metab­o­lize it.

By 2014, long after PFOA’s haz­ards to the envi­ron­ment and human health were first doc­u­ment­ed, the EPA clas­si­fied the chem­i­cal and its cousin PFOS, which was wide­ly used in fire­fight­ing foam, as emer­gent con­t­a­m­i­nants.” But to this day, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment still doesn’t reg­u­late them. And PFOA and PFOS, despite their noto­ri­ety, are only two of an esti­mat­ed 3,000 to 6,000 oth­er unique, high­ly flu­o­ri­nat­ed compounds. 

The chem­i­cals fall with­in the EPA’s purview under the fed­er­al Tox­ic Sub­stances Con­trol Act of 1976. But in the four decades since that law was enact­ed, the EPA has for­mal­ly assessed only a tiny frac­tion of the more than 80,000 man­made chem­i­cals on the market.

PFOA is part of a fam­i­ly of high­ly flu­o­ri­nat­ed chem­i­cals known as poly­flu­o­roalkyl sub­stances, or PFAS. The chem­i­cals are used to make con­sumer prod­ucts resis­tant to water, grease or stains, such as Gore-Tex rain gear, Teflon no-stick cook­ware and Scotch­gard stain-repel­lent for car­pets and fur­ni­ture fab­rics. The EPA agree­ment that phased out PFOA and PFOS by 2015 didn’t stop the pro­duc­tion and use of oth­er high­ly flu­o­ri­nat­ed chem­i­cals. Instead, the chem­i­cal indus­try has shift­ed from PFAS com­pounds with long chains of car­bon and flu­o­rine atoms, like PFOA, to short­er-chain com­pounds in the same family.

The indus­try had per­suad­ed the EPA that short-chain PFAS chem­i­cals are less per­sis­tent in the envi­ron­ment and less harm­ful to human health than their longer-chain pre­de­ces­sors. But experts who gath­ered at a con­fer­ence this sum­mer in Boston said the sup­po­si­tion that short-chain com­pounds are inher­ent­ly safer is not war­rant­ed, even though the EPA has enshrined a dis­tinc­tion between short- and long-chain com­pounds in its policies.

Every per­flu­o­ri­nat­ed com­pound stud­ied is caus­ing prob­lems,” says Lin­da Birn­baum, a tox­i­col­o­gist who serves as the direc­tor of the Nation­al Insti­tute of Envi­ron­men­tal Health Sci­ences and the Nation­al Tox­i­col­o­gy Program.

A new gen­er­a­tion of toxins

Birn­baum out­lined the adverse effects of PFAS com­pounds in her keynote address at a June con­fer­ence focused on these chem­i­cals. The con­fer­ence at North­east­ern Uni­ver­si­ty brought togeth­er research sci­en­tists, gov­ern­ment offi­cials, lawyers, jour­nal­ists, envi­ron­men­tal­ists and peo­ple from com­mu­ni­ties affect­ed by PFAS con­t­a­m­i­na­tion. In her pre­sen­ta­tion, Birn­baum explained even minus­cule con­cen­tra­tions of per­flu­o­ri­nat­ed com­pounds can pose risks. 

Accord­ing to con­ven­tion­al wis­dom and prin­ci­ples of tox­i­col­o­gy, Birn­baum said, poi­son is a func­tion of dosage. So if a sub­stance doesn’t pose risks at high dos­es, it’s con­sid­ered unlike­ly to do so at low expo­sure. But with this class of chem­i­cals, she said, low lev­els of expo­sure may induce bio­log­i­cal effects even if high lev­els of expo­sure do not. This same dynam­ic also occurs with oth­er endocrine-dis­rupt­ing substances.

Andrew Lind­strom, an EPA research sci­en­tist who stud­ies trace con­t­a­m­i­nants for the Nation­al Expo­sure Research Lab­o­ra­to­ry, told those attend­ing the con­fer­ence that indus­try is using short-chain sub­sti­tutes in place of long-chain com­pounds like PFOA and PFOS. But he said the replace­ment com­pounds present mul­ti­ple challenges. 

First, he said, reg­u­la­tors and the pub­lic gen­er­al­ly don’t know the spe­cif­ic iden­ti­ties of these chem­i­cals, the quan­ti­ties in which they’re being pro­duced, their health effects or how long they’re retained in the human body. There is some data, though, on one short-chain PFAS com­pound pro­duced under the prod­uct name GenX. DuPont intro­duced GenX in 2009 specif­i­cal­ly as a safer replace­ment for PFOA for use in mak­ing Teflon and the stain-resis­tant and water-repel­lant coat­ings found in many con­sumer products.

In her series The Teflon Tox­in,” inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Sharon Lern­er of the online mag­a­zine The Inter­cept details the numer­ous health and envi­ron­men­tal haz­ards with this short-chain PFAS compound.

She writes that DuPont sub­mit­ted 16 reports [to EPA] of adverse inci­dents relat­ed to GenX between 2006 and 2013, describ­ing exper­i­ments in which lab ani­mals exposed to the chem­i­cal devel­oped can­cers of the liv­er, pan­creas, and tes­ti­cles as well as benign tumors. The indus­try research also tied GenX to repro­duc­tive prob­lems, includ­ing low birth weight and short­ened preg­nan­cies in rats, and changes in immune responses.” 

Sharon Lern­er’s 13-part inves­tiga­tive series, The Teflon Tox­in, was a final­ist for the Amer­i­can Soci­ety of Mag­a­zine Edi­tors Ellie Award. (Image: The Intercept)

Local com­pa­nies stay mum 

The ques­tion of what chem­i­cals have replaced PFOA is moot in North Ben­ning­ton, Vt., where a for­mer Saint-Gob­ain plant — now blamed for con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing the pri­vate wells of more than 200 homes — has been closed since 2002. But the issue remains a press­ing one for neigh­bors of the Saint-Gob­ain plants in Hoosick Falls and the Tacon­ic Plas­tics fac­to­ry in Peters­burgh, which has been blamed for PFOA con­t­a­m­i­na­tion dis­cov­ered last year that affect­ed about 70 local water users. 

Nei­ther Saint-Gob­ain nor Tacon­ic have revealed what chem­i­cals they’re using in place of PFOA. 

A call to Saint-Gob­ain did not yield a direct answer. The response came via Pep­per­comm, a New York City pub­lic rela­tions firm. The firm pro­vid­ed a writ­ten state­ment attrib­uted to Dina Poked­off, Saint-Gobain’s direc­tor of brand­ing and communication.

The state­ment said Saint-Gob­ain offi­cials rea­son­ably rely on our sup­pli­ers” to pro­vide replace­ment chem­i­cal for PFOA. 

As part of the U.S. EPA’s Stew­ard­ship Pro­gram that major raw mate­r­i­al pro­duc­ers par­tic­i­pat­ed in, a pri­ma­ry goal was to elim­i­nate PFOA from pro­duc­ers’ pro­duc­tion process­es and to iden­ti­fy replace­ments for PFOA,” the state­ment said. 

But Saint-Gob­ain would not char­ac­ter­ize those replace­ment chem­i­cals more specif­i­cal­ly. Instead it sim­ply stat­ed, It is our under­stand­ing that the com­pounds that even­tu­al­ly replaced PFOA are reviewed by the U.S. EPA and in the case of some sup­pli­ers may be pro­pri­etary.” A query to Tacon­ic Plas­tics, which used PFOA for years at its Peters­burgh plant, brought a response from cor­po­rate coun­sel Lau­rie Mason. She declined to pro­vide any infor­ma­tion for this report, cit­ing a Super­fund inves­ti­ga­tion and pend­ing civ­il litigation.

Com­pa­ny records detail hazards

Rob Bilott, a lawyer who brought a class-action suit against DuPont on behalf of peo­ple exposed to PFOA near the company’s plant in Park­ers­burg, W.Va., said the com­pa­ny has a his­to­ry of pro­fess­ing the safe­ty of high­ly flu­o­ri­nat­ed com­pounds to the pub­lic and gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors — despite its own research demon­strat­ing seri­ous haz­ards. DuPont set­tled the Park­ers­burg suit for $235 mil­lion in 2004. But Bilott told par­tic­i­pants in the June con­fer­ence how the law­suit opened a rare win­dow into the nor­mal­ly secret world of an indus­tri­al cor­po­ra­tion grap­pling with respon­si­bil­i­ty and lia­bil­i­ty for a night­mare chemical. 

Through the legal process of dis­cov­ery, DuPont hand­ed over more than 100,000 pages of inter­nal doc­u­ments, which Bilott said he then sub­mit­ted to the EPA with the goal of putting them into the pub­lic record. In that trove of papers, Bilott said he dis­cov­ered that DuPont had been aware of PFOA’s dan­gers for sev­er­al decades. The com­pa­ny stud­ied the chem­i­cal in its lab­o­ra­to­ry pro­gram and also col­lect­ed evi­dence by mon­i­tor­ing its work­ers. He said, as a result, DuPont had inter­nal­ly con­clud­ed in 1988 that PFOA was a human carcinogen. 

Accord­ing to Bilott, by the 1970s, DuPont already knew that PFOA was bio-per­sis­tent. In 1984, the com­pa­ny sur­rep­ti­tious­ly col­lect­ed sam­ples to test pub­lic drink­ing water for con­t­a­m­i­na­tion and deter­mined that PFOA was get­ting into pub­lic water sup­plies. More than 35 years ago, 3M’s rodent stud­ies had linked PFAS with birth defects. When DuPont repeat­ed the stud­ies, it dis­missed any asso­ci­a­tion. But then it mon­i­tored a small num­ber of preg­nant employ­ees exposed to PFOA. Two women out of a sam­ple of eight or ten gave birth to babies with the same type of unusu­al birth defects, he said.

To read the The New York Times Mag­a­zine’s 2016 pro­file on Rob Bilott, click here. (Image: The New York Times Mag­a­zine)

In the late 1980s DuPont estab­lished its own action lev­el of 500 parts per tril­lion for PFOA in drink­ing water. That’s 100 times low­er than the thresh­old of 50 parts per bil­lion that New York was using as a fall­back when PFOA was first found in Hoosick Falls’ drink­ing water in 2014, pri­or to EPA’s inter­ven­tion in late 2015 to warn the pub­lic not to drink the vil­lage water. 

The EPA first set a guid­ance lev­el of 400 ppt for short-term expo­sure to PFOA in drink­ing water in 2009. In 2016, the agency estab­lished 70 ppt as a guide­line upper lev­el for long-term expo­sure, and New York fol­lowed suit.

Last year, after PFOA was detect­ed in North Ben­ning­ton wells, Ver­mont estab­lished a drink­ing water enforce­ment stan­dard of 20 ppt. 

Con­t­a­m­i­na­tion spread widely

Jason Gal­loway, an Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ate stu­dent who grew up along the Ohio Riv­er, told con­fer­ence par­tic­i­pants he became inter­est­ed in deter­min­ing the geo­graph­ic extent of PFAS con­t­a­m­i­na­tion from DuPont’s Park­ers­burg plant, now oper­at­ed by DuPont spin­off com­pa­ny Chemours. Gal­loway teamed up with Lind­strom, the EPA sci­en­tist, who has sen­si­tive ana­lyt­ic equip­ment for detect­ing PFAS, and went out in a kayak to col­lect water samples. 

The plant’s air emis­sions are only mon­i­tored with­in a 2‑mile radius, but some of Galloway’s sam­ples tak­en much fur­ther away con­tained PFOA. In the direc­tion of pre­vail­ing wind, to the north­east, he found PFOA at 100 ppt 15 miles from the plant. At a dis­tance of more than 25 miles, PFOA was still detect­ed, though con­cen­tra­tions dropped to 10 ppt.

Twen­ty miles north of the plant, Gal­loway also found GenX, though the short-chain PFOA replace­ment had only been used for a short time. Lind­strom and his col­lab­o­ra­tors also detect­ed GenX at a con­cen­tra­tion of 661 ppt in the drink­ing water sup­ply of Wilm­ing­ton, N.C., where they col­lect­ed sam­ples down­stream of anoth­er DuPont-owned fac­to­ry oper­at­ed by Chemours. 

The EPA has esti­mat­ed, based on its mon­i­tor­ing of large pub­lic water sys­tems, that PFOA and oth­er long-chain per­flu­o­ri­nat­ed com­pounds are in the drink­ing water of 6 mil­lion Amer­i­cans.

But Har­vard envi­ron­men­tal engi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor Elsie Sun­der­land told par­tic­i­pants in the Boston con­fer­ence that this num­ber seri­ous­ly under­es­ti­mates the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem, because about 90 mil­lion peo­ple rely on pri­vate wells or small pub­lic water sys­tems that aren’t sub­ject to EPA monitoring. 

Sun­der­land also ques­tioned whether the test­ing method­olo­gies used by water sys­tems to com­ply with EPA’s require­ments are sen­si­tive enough to find these chem­i­cals. PFAS com­pounds can cause health effects at lev­els as low as 1 ppt, she said. 

Push­ing for a phase-out

Arlene Blum, an envi­ron­men­tal chemist who found­ed the Green Sci­ence Pol­i­cy Insti­tute, says a body of research now con­tra­dicts DuPont’s claim that short-chain PFAS com­pounds are safe and envi­ron­men­tal­ly prefer­able to longer-chain com­pounds like PFOA. Using a sci­ence-based approach — con­ven­ing sci­en­tif­ic experts, moti­vat­ing need­ed stud­ies, and pub­lish­ing research find­ings in peer-reviewed jour­nals — the Green Sci­ence Pol­i­cy Insti­tute has embarked on a new cam­paign to elim­i­nate six class­es of harm­ful chem­i­cals. PFAS is the first class the group is targeting. 

Arlene Blum of the Green Sci­ence Pol­i­cy Insti­tute explains the dan­gers of high­ly flu­o­ri­nat­ed chem­i­cal com­pounds. (Video: YouTube)

The institute’s approach builds on the Madrid State­ment, which calls for lim­it­ing PFAS as a class because the chem­i­cals pose numer­ous seri­ous haz­ards that make them unsuit­able for pro­duc­tion and use. In 2015, 230 sci­en­tists from 38 nations signed the Madrid State­ment, which was pub­lished with ref­er­ences in the peer-reviewed jour­nal Envi­ron­men­tal Health Per­spec­tives. Blum says this class-wide strat­e­gy would pre­vent regret­table sub­sti­tu­tions” like those that sci­en­tists fear are occur­ring with the new short-chain PFAS compounds. 

So far, at least 40 com­pa­nies have been per­suad­ed to stop using all PFAS com­pounds — both long- and short-chain — in cloth­ing and tex­tiles, says Blum. Our big hope is that the mil­i­tary will do the same.” Despite wide­spread water and soil con­t­a­m­i­na­tion on mil­i­tary bases from the use of PFOS-con­tain­ing fire­fight­ing foam, the Pen­ta­gon has con­tin­ued to pro­cure high­ly flu­o­ri­nat­ed prod­ucts for this pur­pose, she says.

Detail­ing health risks

The most defin­i­tive infor­ma­tion on how PFOA expo­sure can affect human health comes from stud­ies of 70,000 peo­ple liv­ing near a DuPont chem­i­cal plant in Park­ers­burg, W.Va. As part of the set­tle­ment in the large class-action law­suit brought by Bilott against DuPont, three epi­demi­ol­o­gists approved by both sides stud­ied this pop­u­la­tion, which also received free health mon­i­tor­ing. DuPont agreed not to fight per­son­al injury suits from area res­i­dents who expe­ri­enced these health problems.

The data indi­cat­ed a prob­a­ble asso­ci­a­tion between PFOA expo­sure and kid­ney can­cer, tes­tic­u­lar can­cer, ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis, thy­roid dis­ease, high cho­les­terol, and preg­nan­cy-induced hyper­ten­sion. Although oth­er effects may occur, they were not sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant in this pop­u­la­tion. As endocrine dis­rup­tors, PFAS com­pounds affect hor­mon­al sys­tems. This can cause of a cas­cade of effects, because hor­mones act as sig­nals to start, stop and oth­er­wise reg­u­late many phys­i­o­log­i­cal processes. 

Court­ney Carig­nan, a repro­duc­tive envi­ron­men­tal epi­demi­ol­o­gist at Har­vard, not­ed that PFAS com­pounds affect thy­roid func­tion. She says ade­quate thy­roid lev­els are crit­i­cal for brain devel­op­ment and mat­u­ra­tion in the devel­op­ing fetus and dur­ing childhood. 

PFAS com­pounds also are asso­ci­at­ed with an autoim­mune hypothy­roid mark­er. PFOA also dis­rupts sex hor­mones, for exam­ple by depress­ing testos­terone lev­els. At the blood con­cen­tra­tions found in chil­dren in the Ohio Riv­er val­ley where DuPont’s Parkersburg’s plant con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed drink­ing water, PFOA expo­sure affects mam­ma­ry gland devel­op­ment in the devel­op­ing fetus. Lat­er in life, pre­na­tal expo­sure may impair a woman’s capac­i­ty to breast feed and pre­dis­pose her to breast cancer.

Alan Ducat­man, a pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine and pub­lic health at West Vir­ginia Uni­ver­si­ty, sug­gests oth­er mech­a­nisms through which PFOA can cause devel­op­men­tal prob­lems. He says stud­ies show PFOA induces prob­lems with fat metab­o­lism in rodents and dis­rupts cho­les­terol metab­o­lism in humans. Accord­ing to Ducat­man, cho­les­terol is a sterol, and the dis­rup­tion of sterol metab­o­lism is asso­ci­at­ed with devel­op­men­tal abnormalities. 

High­ly flu­o­ri­nat­ed com­pounds also affect the immune sys­tem in com­plex ways. Birn­baum cit­ed a long-term study of moth­er-child pairs in the Faroe Islands, which are part of Den­mark. In that study, chil­dren whose moth­ers were in the top 20 per­cent for expo­sure to PFAS com­pounds couldn’t mount a nor­mal immune response to vaccination. 

In preg­nant women, per­flu­o­ri­nat­ed com­pounds are car­ried from the pla­cen­ta to the fetus, and breast milk is a source of expo­sure for children. 

Ongo­ing exposure

Cathy Daw­son, an oper­at­ing room nurse who’s lived in Hoosick Falls for 30 years, brings a health ori­en­ta­tion to the NY Water Project. When she first heard the rum­blings” about PFOA and saw a notice about it in her vil­lage water bill, she said she didn’t pay much atten­tion. But then she mes­saged Michael Hick­ey. As a boy, he and his par­ents and sib­lings were her next-door neigh­bors when Daw­son first moved to Hoosick Falls. Hickey’s response pro­pelled her into action.

Michael filled me in on every­thing that was going on, and told me about his research,” she recalls. Pick­ing up where he left off, she did her own research.

What she learned left her outraged.

A lot of peo­ple are afraid of the can­cers” asso­ci­at­ed with PFOA, Daw­son says. But some­thing like arthri­tis impacts peo­ple day to day with pain and dis­fig­ure­ment. PFOA is also known to cause cra­nial-facial abnor­mal­i­ties, and there are all the endocrine dis­or­ders. Stud­ies have also linked PFOA to seizures. From a health-care per­spec­tive, it’s awful.”

NY Water Project’s big push now is to get the vil­lage a new water sup­ply. Although state offi­cials say a new fil­tra­tion sys­tem is now keep­ing PFOA out of tap water, the village’s water comes from under­ground wells near the Saint-Gob­ain plant on McCaf­frey Street, and the wells remain heav­i­ly con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed. But water isn’t the only part of Hoosick Falls’ envi­ron­ment affect­ed by indus­tri­al pol­lu­tion. Por­tions of the vil­lage that were con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by Saint-Gobain’s plants are on track to be des­ig­nat­ed a Super­fund site — they made it onto EPA’s Nation­al Pri­or­i­ties List in late July — and thus become eli­gi­ble for fed­er­al cleanup funds. 

The Saint-Gob­ain Per­for­mance Plas­tics plant on McCaf­frey Street in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. (Image: Joan K. Lenti­ni / Hill Coun­try Observer)

For the peo­ple being affect­ed, local pol­lu­tion isn’t just a lega­cy issue. Daw­son says she believes Saint-Gob­ain is still releas­ing indus­tri­al tox­ins into the air, and air depo­si­tion is one way that high­ly flu­o­ri­nat­ed com­pounds get into ground and sur­face water. 

The air still stinks, though it’s not as bad as it used to be,” she says, adding that odors from the plant are inter­mit­tent. It smells like burn­ing plas­tic, like if you left a Teflon pan on the stove.”

(“Trad­ing old haz­ards for new? Mys­tery shrouds chem­i­cals that replaced PFOA​” was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished by the Hill Coun­try Observ­er and is repost­ed on Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times with per­mis­sion from the author. For addi­tion­al back­ground on the PFOA con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of water sup­plies in com­mu­ni­ties in Upstate New York, Ver­mont and else­where see Small Towns in New York and Ver­mont Share a Water Con­t­a­m­i­na­tion Cri­sis, But Not an Offi­cial Response“ — also by Tra­cy Frisch and post­ed on this site in Sep­tem­ber.)

Tra­cy Frisch is an inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist based in upstate New York near the Ver­mont bor­der. In the 1990s and ear­ly 2000s, she worked as an advo­cate and orga­niz­er on pes­ti­cide and envi­ron­men­tal health issues. She lat­er pro­mot­ed eco­log­i­cal agri­cul­ture with farm­ers and the local food move­ment. She can be reached at tracy.​frisch@​gmail.​com.
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