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Newburgh PFOS Forum Draws Calls For Blood Testing

Federal, state and local officials briefed dozens of area residents on developments concerning PFOS contamination in the City of Newburgh’s drinking water supply. The update came at a forum at Mount Saint Mary College Monday evening during which several residents called for blood testing. 

The public learned of the PFOS contamination in early May after testing in Silver Stream and Washington Lake, the main source of drinking water for Newburgh. The city quickly switched to a different water source, Brown’s Pond, which it has since depleted. The city now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Water Quality Rapid Response Team and the New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation and Health have been working with city and county officials and have committed to fund the city’s hookup to the Catskill Aqueduct as well as fund the design and construction of a filtration system. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been lending its expertise. Perflourinated chemicals have been linked to ill-health effects including various forms of cancer. City of Newburgh resident Chad Wade is focused on pushing for answers about providing blood sampling for PFOS levels.

“Well, I’m concerned with getting my son tested, two sons. I have a 1 year old and a 3 ½ year old who both… my wife drank City of Newburgh water with PFOS while she was pregnant,” says Wade.

He adds:

“I’ve heard a lot from the folks that we need to talk to our doctors,” Wade says. “I’ve done that but they don’t have the answers because our state folks don’t have the answers.”

“Would you like to see the state Department of Health say we’re going to test like they did in Hoosick Falls?” Dunne asks.

“I think they should have been here testing already,” says Wade.

Recently, the state Health Department began returning blood testing results for Hoosick Falls residents affected by PFOA contamination in the drinking water. PFOA is a sister chemical to PFOS. Hoosick Falls resident Michele Baker attended the Newburgh forum.

“I wanted to come down to see how New York state, the EPA, was addressing issue outside my community,” says Baker. “Hoosick Falls is ground zero for PFOA contamination and it’s been handled horribly by the Cuomo Administration.”

Cuomo announced in January what he called immediate and aggressive actions to protect the health of Hoosick Falls residents. Baker, who is part of a class-action lawsuit, says she has received blood test results for herself and her daughter. And though she declined to reveal the results, she called her daughter’s PFOA blood level unacceptable. Baker wants the state to hold hearings on the contamination issue and approached Democratic Assemblyman Frank Skartados, whose district includes Newburgh.

“Just curious, where do you stand on Governor Cuomo holding hearings for Hoosick Falls,” asks Baker.

“Well, obviously that’s a decision that he has to make. I don’t represent that community, but if there’s enough…” says Skartados.

“But now that we’re in this together,” says Baker.

“Absolutely. I think it may be a good idea for him to do that,” says Skartados.

And asked whether he would push for blood testing for Newburgh residents, Skartados replies:

“I think that would be a good idea. Absolutely. I will do my part. It’s a serious problem,” says Skartados. “But I’m also grateful that we are responding as quickly as we are in such a short period of time. I think we’ve done a great deal. But I will continue to fight for the residents of the City of Newburgh and anywhere else that there may be contaminants or water problems.”

Dan Shapley sat on the panel. He is water quality program manager for Riverkeeper.

“Tonight, I think one of the things that really came through was a suggestion that we had made for blood testing, really rang true,” Shapley says. “A lot of residents really stood up and said, I don’t have the information I want about my own exposure. I don t think my doctors have the information to guide me.”

Earlier in the panel discussion, DOH Director of the Center for Environmental Health Dr. Nathan Graber said blood testing for PFOS is still under consideration. Graber speaks to what drives this decision.

“I think a big part of it is the interest in the community and then talking to our partners about how to actually carry that out, be it our federal partners, local partners and other state partners,” says Graber.

He says he will relay to his colleagues residents’ calls for blood testing.

“I think we heard a substantial call for blood testing here tonight and I’m sure we’ll hear more,” Graber says.

Newburgh City Councilman Torrance Harvey says he’s been fielding calls from residents who want to know about blood testing.

“Everyone’s working hard at identifying what it is, trying to find the source of where it’s coming from and get the people responsible to pay and remediate this issue,” says Harvey. “But no one has mentioned when are we going to get the people tested for free. When, where and how.”

He continues:

“And the gentleman from the state said, we’ll get back to you. That’s unacceptable,” Harvey says.

DEC officials also informed audience members about potential sources of contamination, noting the investigation continues, including sampling of Stewart Airport and the Stewart Air National Guard base stormwater outfalls.  

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