Zucker leads hearings that goes 12 hours

September 08, 2016 01:04 AM

ALBANY – More than 12 hours after it started, the public hearing on Water Quality and Contamination ended without a conclusion and a promise of the next chapter: Monday, September 12 on Long Island.

On Wednesday in Albany, the joint Senate and Assembly committees heard from nine panels that began with Dr. Howard Zucker, Commissioner of the NYS Dept. of Health, and Basil Seggos, Commissioner of the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. It went more than five hours of both testimony and question-and-answer, sometimes heated.

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Manhattan Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh admitted during a break just before 9 p.m. that this hearing in particular probably should have been over two days with all the questions they had about the precious resource and necessity, water. And what goes better with water? Pizza. During a break between 8:50 p.m. and 9 p.m., Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, Chair of the Committee on Health, got on the microphone to ask anyone left in the hearing room if they'd like a slice of pizza because they were placing an order.

Some on the panel had already been nibbling on peanuts and other snacks during the testimony while some left to go to a rear room to grab a bite.

“It would be on DOH's shoulders,” said Dr. Howard Freed, former director of the NYS DOH Center for Environmental Health, when questioned by Kavanagh. "What they could have done is set a lower limit (on PFOA parts in water). Go with EPA's limit. I think it's reasonable that DOH go with EPA's limit."

The state is investigating the water quality of not only Hoosick Falls but down to Long Island and out to Buffalo. With the primary focus on Hoosick Falls, though, Assemblyman McLaughlin said the Department of Health has “institutional arrogance.”

"If it doesn't meet their standards that they reject it. Does that sound like an accurate description of what goes on over there?” asked the Republican from Melrose to Freed.

“Yes, yes that is it," answered Freed.

Dr. Zucker had his team around him for most of his testimony, defending the state’s response and putting the blame on the EPA’s doorstep.

"Once it was confirmed, we went forward and we moved to figuring out what we could do to decrease the PFOA and we followed what the recommendations were,” said Zucker under questioning from McLaughlin.

David Engel of Nolan & Heller, an attorney for Healthy Hoosick Water, a not-for-profit, worked on the GE/PCB crisis in Fort Edward while working for NYS DEC, drafting the consent order. He said that Mayor Borges of Hoosick Falls was reluctant to take action against Saint Gobain but that Engel knew that company had dealt with contamination at plants in New Hampshire and Ireland.

"I think they knew all along,” Engel said, adding “but the practical problem is that small communities are not going to have the resources to test for that."

Conclusions (from both the committee and the witnesses) DOH wanted to avoid alarm and EPA failed to enact stricter standards much earlier than 18-months ago.


John Craig

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