New York state Department of Environmental Conservation and Health Department officials were in Newburgh Monday night to provide an update on the city’s new carbon filtration system to filter PFOS contamination from the city’s drinking water. Many residents voiced concern about switching to the state-funded system. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports the date for testing the system has been pushed back.
Until the new system is placed online, Newburgh will continue to draw water from the Catskill Aqueduct, which it has been doing since 2016, soon after the city’s main drinking water source — Washington Lake — was found to be contaminated with PFOS. Newburgh resident Terrie Goldstein addressed state officials.
“This is not a sales pitch. This says to us, here’s what we’re going to do, I hope you like it but, if you don’t, we’re going to do it anyway,” Goldstein said. “I’m not comfortable with that.”
And here’s why.
“Once they open up, I think it’s called, Silver Stream that that contaminated water is going to start going into Washington Lake again,” Goldstein says. “And so, I’ve got to believe over a period of time the contaminants are going to rise. So there’ll be a time at which this carbon filter system will just not work for us. So they’ll add something else? I’m not quite sure. But once you have a lake that is contaminated and it continues to be contaminated, that’s not an answer for a city of 25,000 people.”
New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Deputy Commissioner of Remediation and Materials Management Martin Brand…
“I’m fully confident that the system that we’ve designed is robust enough and redundant enough that it will handle the concentrations that we found previously in Silver Stream.”
In August 2016, the state designated Stewart Air National Guard base a Superfund site, after finding the source of PFOS contamination in Washington Lake was the historic use of firefighting foam at the base. DEC and federal lawmakers continue to press the Department of Defense to take responsibility and pay for PFOS cleanup at the base. The state has found some of the highest concentrations of PFOS in outfalls from the base, at Recreation Pond. Ophra Wolf is a city resident and member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project. She is also concerned about remediating the PFOS pollution at its source.
“And we don’t know what’s going on, and we don’t know who we can count on and when we can count on the pollution at the air base actually being taken care of,” Wolf says. “That’s a big concern.”
Again, the DEC’s Brand.
“And we’ve even done additional investigations in Rec Pond to develop some of the engineering parameters that were necessary maybe to come up with an interim solution there,” Brand says. “So we continue to move forward.”
Water quality program director for Riverkeeper Dan Shapley says there are a few important aspects to watch, including testing of the new system. Plus:
“One other important thing that we’d like to see is a real analysis to see if this polluted Silver Stream that connects the Air National Guard base to the drinking water supply, how far can we go without using it,” Shapley says. “We know the city saved 50 percent of its water through leak detection so, given that, how many months can we go without using Silver Stream at all. And, if we can avoid using it completely, that should be what we should aim for.”
Brand says once the filtration plant is put online, it will start without filtering water from Silver Stream. Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino says relying solely on Washington Lake for drinking water will be insufficient.
“We have a quantity of water that comes from Silver Stream that’s roughly two-thirds of our surface water that feeds Washington Lake. The other one-third, it comes from Patton Brook,” Ciaravino says. “If we keep the diversion gate closed, assuming we would use Washington Lake water, we would simply run out of water.”
Asked about how long it would take to deplete Washington Lake, he says:
“I don’t have the calculations for you, but the DEC knows as well as we do that, in order for Washington Lake to be a sustainable source of water for a filtration plant, that diversion gate would need to be opened and allow in that PFOS, that’s carrying 5,900 parts per trillion, PFOS into Washington Lake,” says Ciaravino. “We don’t want to do that, our residents don’t want to do it, and many of us are convinced that we would never drink the water if that gate were open. That water needs to be remediated at its source and it’s something we’ve been talking about since the crisis happened.”
The DEC’s Brand says the testing was pushed back from mid-January to around March 5 to handle some operational matters and, after hearing concerns from the community, allow more time for residents to understand how the testing would unfold. He says the testing should take a few weeks.
“And then we’re going to get the results back as quickly as we can. We’re going to be very transparent in what we found. We’re going to give those results to the community. We’ll find a format and a place to put those results so everybody can view them. We’ll discuss that with the city,” says Brand. “We’ll make sure everyone fully understands the results before we make any decision to start up the system.”
He says there is no set date for that. Some residents and council members said they are concerned Newburgh taxpayers will end up paying the cost of maintaining and operating the new filtration system. Brand responded.
“Obviously, we’re going to try and get the DoD to start paying for it at some point but, until that happens, New York state’s not going away,” says Brand. “We’ve been paying all along, we’ve been reimbursing the city for its costs and we’ll continue to do that.”
In fact, he says the state is working on a written agreement with the city saying that New York will continue to pick up the cost and aid in the operation of the filtration system. Brand estimates the annual operational cost of the system will be between $700,000 and $800,000.