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Hudson Valley News

Schumer Visits PFOS-Contaminated Lake In Newburgh

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer says he will introduce legislation that would require the Air Force to identify the source of water contamination in Newburgh and pay to clean it up if a base nearby is responsible.

Senator Schumer on Tuesday visited Washington Lake, the main source of drinking water for Newburgh that is contaminated with PFOS. The city is now drawing water from the Catskill Aqueduct while a carbon filtration system is designed, all being funded by the state. New York’s senior senator says he will introduce legislation requiring the U.S. Air Force to pay for the cleanup if, in fact, Stewart Air National Guard base is found responsible for the contamination.

“So the Air Force needs to immediately conduct tests so we can determine the extent of the contamination and, if found culpable, pay for the mitigation as well as the release of a detailed timeline for cleaning it up,” Schumer says. “The people of Newburgh need answers and then they need action, fast. The City of Newburgh and its residents deserve clean drinking water. They deserve to know their children are safe. And they deserve to see those responsible pay for the cleanup, not the taxpayers of Newburgh.”

An Air Force spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment in time for this broadcast. Schumer says the bottom line is:

“It’s going to require the Air Force to get up from sitting on their hands and do the right thing for the City of Newburgh. I’m going to work to get this bill passed as soon as I can,” Schumer says. “As you all know, I’ve been calling for Congress to come back from vacation because of the Zika situation. If they come back they should do this as well, If they don’t come back, we have to pass a budget in September and I’m going to do everything I can to get this legislation in the bill in September so it will be law by the time the president signs it October 1, which is when we have to have a new budget.”

The Democrat says that before the Senate adjourned for summer recess, he introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that required the Department of Defense to launch an investigation to determine the extent of possible groundwater contamination in Newburgh. However, Schumer’s amendment was not included and, as a result, he will be introducing this stand-alone bill. Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino says by requiring additional testing, Schumer’s legislation could help identify other contaminants.

“We have another opportunity to do more comprehensive testing. As this lake now remains unused, a lot of questions have come forward about what other contaminants may have been utilized at Stewart Air Force that are now in the water, in Washington Lake, that is now in our water beds in Washington Lake,” Ciaravino says.  “Before we’re able to switch back to Washington Lake as our primary source of water, we need to have those questions answered and I believe Senator Schumer’s legislation is going to move the City of Newburgh in the right direction, namely reconciling with the truth and the historic uses that have been brought into our water supply.”

Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus also was on hand.

“Our Department of Health has been front and center to make sure that the testing is done right and that we have all the tools to help you,” Neuhaus said. “I couldn’t be happier to be here supporting this, taking action, doing the right thing.”

The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation continues to investigate sources of contamination, and DEC Region 3 Director Martin Brand recently told WAMC the agency is closer to homing in on where to focus a full remedial investigation study after having sampled more than 100 locations.

“All of this is still strongly pointing to the primary source as being the Air National Guard base and some areas on the airport,” Brand says.

The DEC also has been investigating historic use and storage of PFOS-containing firefighting foam in the areas around Washington Lake and its tributaries. Ciaravino says Schumer’s visit to the lake, which is also a recreation area, meant a lot.

“Senator Schumer’s presence at Washington Lake means everything to us. My engineering team, our water department, our Department of Public Works, they’re exhausted,” Ciaravino says. “And it’s nice to know our efforts are not being ignored and that others take this issue with Washington Lake as seriously as we do.”

City of Newburgh resident Tamie Hollins says her son died at age 18 in 2010, and she was told he died of natural causes, after having felt sick for a few days.

“After hearing about the PFOS and the PFOAs in our tap water, in our bathing water, just in our water in our general, now I’m starting to think was that a contribute to my son passing away, but not just my son. There’s been two or three, maybe four, young people who passed away right after my son,” Hollins says. “And so now I’m going to go and look into it. I’m going to look further and do a little more research.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says studies have linked PFOS with potential health risks such as birth defects and damage to the liver and thyroid.  

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