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Polluters' victims in Hoosick Falls need time to sue

Polluters' victims in Hoosick Falls need time to sue

Statute of limitations on health effects of previously undocumented contamination must be extended
Polluters' victims in Hoosick Falls need time to sue
Hoosick Falls, New York in May 2011.
Photographer: Doug Kerr via Flickr

So you've been sick for years.

Your blood tests show a high level of some foreign chemical. Your spouse and kids test positive for it, too. But you don't know where it came from. So you just go about paying your medical bills out of your own pocket, even though someone else is to blame for your troubles.

Now it's 2016, and the government suddenly declares the ground from which you get your drinking water to be a part of a Superfund site attributable to contamination from a nearby factory.

Yet if you go to recover your medical bills from all those past years of illness, you're out of luck because the statute of limitations on such claims has long passed.

That's the situation in Hoosick Falls, where residents only recently learned that their water supply was contaminated with a toxic chemical, PFOA, used by the local Saint-Gobain plant in the manufacture of non-stick coatings for cookware. Residents of the town of Petersburgh, another Rensselaer County community, experienced a similar situation involving PFOA and Taconic Plastics.

Those affected residents currently have no recourse to be compensated for those years of harm under existing state law.

That's why if the state Legislature does anything before the end of the 2016 session this week, it should pass a new bill (A9568A/S6824A) that would effectively extend that statute of limitations to give residents time to seek compensation.

The clock on litigation should start when the source is documented, not when the polluting took place, often decades earlier.

This bill would allow residents to bring claims within three years of a site being designated a federal or state Superfund site.

Despite years of the chemical being dumped into the Hoosick Falls village water supply, the state only earlier this year announced its intention to declare the area a state Superfund site. A similar discovery and designation occurred in Petersburgh.

The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman John McDonald of Rensselaer and in the Senate by Sen. Kathleen Marchione of Halfmoon, with local Assembly members Jim Tedisco, Angelo Santabarbara and Phil Steck among the cosponsors. The Assembly passed the bill last month by a 132-7 margin, with all local members voting for it.

It's now up to the Senate leadership to put its version of the bill up for a floor vote before the Legislature adjourns for the summer on Thursday.

It needs to happen.

Residents kept in the dark for years about the source of their illnesses need to be able to seek compensation through the courts for the damage caused by these companies — and for government's failure to identify in a timely manner the source of the chemical contamination.

People shouldn't be punished by arbitrary legal deadlines that protect polluters at the expense of their financial and physical health.

Extending the statute of limitations doesn't guarantee anyone compensation, but it does guarantee victims the opportunity to make their case in court.

That's the least our government can give them for the harm they've suffered.

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