Editorial: Release PFOA documents

Could help public get better understanding
Hoosick Falls in May 2011.
Hoosick Falls in May 2011.

What could be more important for the state Legislature to share with the citizens than information that affects their health?

Not that much, right?

Then you have to wonder why the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee — which last year subpoenaed internal corporate records from three companies related to PFOA contamination — won’t release those documents to the public.

Two of the companies identified in the subpoenas, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell, are currently negotiating a settlement with the village of Hoosick Falls over the contamination of the village’s water supply.

A vote on the latest settlement proposal was postponed Monday after residents turned out in large numbers to object.

The other company named in the Senate subpoenas, Taconic Plastics Limited, is the subject of a class-action lawsuit in the Rensselaer County community of Petersburgh and has been under investigation for years by the state for PFOA contamination.

PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) is a toxic chemical used in the production of nonstick surfaces for products used in cooking. It’s been linked to health issues, including cancer.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan, ranking Democratic member of the committee, has been on a crusade for the last several months to obtain documents from the companies and to release them to the public.

The documents, which he said he has viewed, could help the public get a better understanding of how the companies used the chemical and what they knew about the dangers of it and when.

That could help citizens understand more clearly how they’ve been affected by the contamination and give them direction on pursuing litigation. It could also give communities like Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh leverage that could help them in settlement negotiations with the polluters. And it could help determine the state’s culpability and the degree with which it acted, or didn’t act, upon information it had on the contamination.

One of the reasons so many people objected to the settlement deal proposed by Hoosick Falls with Saint-Gobain and Honeywell is that not enough is yet known about the extent of the contamination and how much was known by the state and the companies about the potential health risks.

The release of these documents could help shed more light on all that, as well as prompt more government hearings that could force company officials to answer vital questions.

Yet the Republican leaders of the committee — despite the fact that they have had the documents in their possession since late September — have so far rejected Hoylman’s requests that the subpoenaed documents be released.

The leaders of the committee, in response to a similar request by Hoylman, said last October that the documents were under review. How long does it take to determine if information in the hands of public officials is worthy of public scrutiny?

Leaders of the committee need to stop stalling and start producing.

The citizens’ right to know about potential dangers to their health demand that lawmakers share what they know and what documents they have.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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