Cuomo strikes contrasting tones at Hoosick Falls and Indian Point

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Indian Point. (Russ Nelson)
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ALBANY — It was a tale of two cautionary responses.

On Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a rare weekend public statement to warn New Yorkers that the water around the Indian Point nuclear center had “alarming levels of radioactivity.” He ordered yet another state investigation of Indian Point and said the release of radioactive tritium-contaminated water leaked into the groundwater at the facility was another reason to see the plant closed.

Two days later, in Albany, he cautioned against a rush to judgment on the water pollution in Hoosick Falls. Cuomo said he wanted to wait for more “facts” and cautioned that banks should not be withholding the writing of mortgages until more results had been returned. He said he was waiting for another round of water well tests to come back, even though earlier rounds already proved that toxic levels of a chemical linked to cancer was in the water. Cuomo claimed the state would be “overprotective” in Hoosick Falls and chided people who would let emotions get “ahead of facts.”

While Cuomo was "deeply concerned" about the leak at Indian Point, he seemed more concerned about untoward panic among residents at Hoosick Falls, despite the fact that the water in Hoosick Falls has been poisoned, and the water near Indian Point is safe to consume.

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It already has been verified that the water in Hoosick Falls exceeds federal pollution standards, by at least four or five times what the Environmental Protection Agency has said is safe for humans to consume. What’s more, the toxic chemical PFOA is definitely in the water of Hoosick Falls and the people there have likely been drinking it for years, possibly generations. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, has been linked to unusual cancers and other life-threatening conditions, and medical professionals in town have documented high rates of cancers.

The state waited months to take significant action in Hoosick Falls, and assured residents as recently as December that the water was safe to drink. The state Department of Health, along with the village’s elected leaders, have been widely criticized by residents as well as some lawmakers, who are now considering holding legislative hearings on the state's actions in Hoosick Falls. 

And though the radioactivity levels in the water near Indian Point spiked upwards in recent weeks, it is still 1,000 times below federal limits. The wells that tested positive for elevated levels of radium (in one case it was a 65,000 percent increase) are designed for monitoring and not human consumption. The tritium, a naturally occuring radioactive isotope, found in the water at Indian Point will likely never reach a source of drinking water. About two-thirds of the nuclear plants in the nation have reported leaks of tritium into groundwater at levels above the federal benchmark.

Of course, Cuomo has a long and increasingly vocal desire to see Indian Point closed. Its operator, Entergy, has two ongoing lawsuits against the state. The Cuomo administration has been preparing for Indian Point’s closure for years, and already signed off on one natural gas plant, powered by Pennsylvania’s fracked gas, that has begun construction in the lower Hudson Valley. A second natural gas-fired plant is now winding its way through the state approval process.

While any leaks from a nuclear facility are serious, Indian Point should be viewed in its proper context and focus should be shifted to remediation, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran against Cuomo in 2014, said in a statement.

“Getting the facts and understanding them are critically important to serving the public interest,” Astorino said. “False hysteria is not.”

But Democratic lawmakers from the Hudson Valley, including U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, state Senate minority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and state Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, quickly joined the governor’s call for Indian Point’s closure.

As legislators stalked the Capitol's hallways over the last few weeks, however, virtually none saw fit to hold an emergency news conference about the unfolding disaster in Hoosick Falls, about 30 miles to the northeast of Albany in Rensselaer County, where 4,000 residents wonder whether they or their children will get cancer from the water they drank.