Dangerous not to test. The safety of water in the Hilltowns needs to be taken seriously

To the Editor:

As a concerned citizen and 23-year resident of town of Knox, I feel the need to bring to the forefront, the incredibly urgent need for water testing in our community. My only concern is the safety and health of our community. I’ve brought up these concerns at a town board meeting as well. It’s a start.

I am retired with 29 years of service with the New York State Department of Health. Most of that time was water-quality testing as a mass-spectrometer analyst. Our team analyzed samples of PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] in the Hudson river, Love Canal, private wells throughout the state, and other public waterways. I’ve seen many a private well shut down due to pollutants, including my own well while living in Glenville, New York.

Yes, I tested my own well without knowing it, due to accession number as the only ID. The health department let us drink contaminated water for three months before sending a letter, suggesting we abandon the well and get connected to city water.

I ask you to put yourself in my shoes and imagine getting that news. If we had no town water supply to connect to, how could we safely live in that home or even sell our house?

At a town board meeting, I brought up the issue of “superfund sites,” and no one knew of the term or the issues. I’m not faulting anyone, just pointing out the fact that not everyone is a chemist or expert on the subject.

That’s exactly why we need our Conservation Advisory Committee to be stronger than ever. If we look at the town’s past community survey, there were many concerns about water quality. Naturally occurring iron and sulphur is a common concern easily explained: The underlying Brayman shales are loaded with pyrite.

The Hilltowns have always been known for a thin soil structure and a very unique geology, which renders our water very vulnerable to pollution. Fact is, one gallon of gasoline can taint one million gallons of water.

Knox will never have a public water supply or sewage system. The geology, infrastructure, and cost are not doable.

A study of the connectedness of our water supply was done by one of our renowned citizens, incorporating dye testing. Simply adding an easily detected dye to a water source and within a few hours to several days or more, the dye shows up in springs or other water sources.

Now in your mind’s eye, replace that dye with a gallon of gas, or a 50-pound bag of pesticides. Are you getting the bigger picture yet?

Anything you put down the sink is going to get into the ground as well. This is serious, some of the most potent poisons do not have an odor, color, or taste.

How would you know if it’s in your water? Getting folks to understand how serious this is for us and future generations, is harder than my surviving cancer. Getting someone to do something about it is even harder yet.

Recently there was an article in the paper, in which the state’s Department of Health spoke of budget and staff cuts that prompted the department to encourage local cities and towns to do water testing on their own. Several million dollars have been earmarked for such tests in the form of grant money. This might be a great project for our Conservation Advisory Council.

I’d like to point out another reason we need to be our own advocates. We all know how Hoosick Falls is suffering the consequences of irresponsible industrial pollution.

Believe me, it costs millions of dollars to do the aquifer studies and groundwater flow directions, etc., that will bring the perpetrators to their knees. The state departments of health and of environmental conservation do not have the resources to do everything needed.

Furthermore, DOH/DEC are involved with legally licensing industry and agriculture to allow minimum amounts of pollutants. If Hoosick Falls had tested its water before the industry moved in, and had a baseline analysis, it could have proven its case much sooner.

I’d like to impress those interested with some staggering numbers as an example. DEC’s latest complete pesticide usage report is 2013. The DEC is already behind.

Why? If you go to the DEC website you can read all the disclaimers — i.e., poor penmanship in filling out the proper forms, wrong units of measurement, incomplete paperwork.

Let’s look at the numbers the DEC has estimated. Statewide use of professional pesticide applicators was 24,345,487 pounds, 1,016,819 pounds in Albany County alone. That’s one year and not counting what the public uses. Does it seem futile, while that’s going on, we are talking about parts per million or billion that can cause cancer?

I’d also like to call on our leaders to reinstate our participation in the toxic and chemical waste disposal day. Expense was cited as the reason not to participate. To be fair, it was said that lack of participation was also a factor.

Let’s get our money’s worth. I propose we get volunteers to contact the elderly or folks who can’t get out but have a garage full of stuff. To keep these pollutants out of our water may not seem like a big deal today, but they may be tomorrow. Let’s get this done for the present and future health of our good people.

In closing, I offer this old Mohawk saying:

“A good leader (chief) is not one who can get the people to do what he or she says, but in whose presence, it’s easy to do the right thing.”

Eric Marczak


Editor’s note: Eric Marczak is a member of the Knox Zoning Board of Appeals.

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