Capital District – Legislation sponsored by Assemblymember John McDonald (D-108), which would enable residents of Hoosick Falls and other Superfund communities that have been harmed by pollution to recover the costs of their medical bills, has passed the state Assembly with overwhelmingly bipartisan support (132-7). Currently, the statute of limitations prevents residents from filing personal injury action because the health effects of decades-long contamination have only recently become known.
The bill, A9568A/S6824A, is also sponsored by Senator Kathy Marchione (R-43), and is currently in the Senate judiciary committee. On the afternoon of Monday, June 13, McDonald, Marchione, advocates, and residents met in the press room at the Legislative Office Building in Albany and called upon Senate leadership to immediately bring the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote before session ends on June 16.
“Many residents in Hoosick Falls have been sick for years with no idea what could be causing their illnesses,” said Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY) Water and Natural Resources Associate Liz Moran. “Now that they have learned that the culprit was chemical contamination, they deserve compensation for their medical expenses. This is a moral issue, and we applaud Assemblyman John McDonald and Senator Kathy Marchione for their legislation to protect them, and all those who live in Superfund sites. With just days to go before legislators leave Albany for the year, the Senate – in particular Majority Leader John Flanagan – must allow a vote and give folks a fair chance at legal justice.”
Section 1 of the proposed law would add a new section to civil procedure law that allows those harmed by contaminants at a Superfund site to bring personal injury claims against the polluter up to three years after that site is designated a Superfund site; a personal injury action arising from exposure to chemicals or other substances contained within an area could be commenced by a plaintiff within the period authorized under an existing section of the civil practice law and rules or within three years of that site’s designation as a state or federal superfund site – whichever is latest. Section 2 simply states that the legislation will take effect immediately.
“The recent discovery of water contamination in Hoosick Falls, New York and Flint, Michigan has raised great alarm across our country and our state,” reads the sponsor memo attached to the legislation. “These instances of contamination have been cited as the potential cause of many previously unexplained illnesses suffered by members of those communities. In many cases, the statute of limitations to bring a personal injury action has long since run before any contamination was ever discovered. This bill seeks to address this inequity and give those who have been sickened legal recourse to be made whole.
“This legislation would allow a personal injury action to be brought within three years of the time when a site containing chemicals and other substances has been designated as a state or federal superfund site. Under current state law, the three year statute of limitations for personal injury actions related to the latent effects of exposure begins to run when an injury is discovered or reasonably should have been discovered, whichever is sooner.
“This bill would create a narrowly tailored legal mechanism to address instances where extraordinary circumstances negatively impact public health. What distinguishes the injuries suffered by many residents of Hoosick Falls from other exposure cases is that members of this community had no idea they had even been exposed to any hazardous toxins until years after they had become sick. Individuals in Hoosick Falls should not be denied any legal recourse simply because the statute of limitations has run on a claim they never knew that they had.”
“I encourage the Senate to join with the Assembly to ensure that residents of areas such as Hoosick Falls and other designated Superfund sites are able to preserve their rights where they were harmed,” said Assemblyman McDonald. “This is right and just due to the nature of these proceedings including the lengthy time frames to reach this designation, and it is therefore appropriate that residents have three years to review their personal situation if there is harm.”
“We have been living in fear and anger since finding out our drinking water was full of PFOA,” said Michele Baker, a mother from Hoosick Falls. “My family and I, and many, many more have been drinking this contaminated water for possibly decades, and more than 2,000 neighbors of mine have tested positive for this potential carcinogen. It’s terrifying to think of the consequences to our health. This legislation is very meaningful for us because this happened to our families and to our town, and we deserve the right to hold polluters accountable.”