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NYS DEC Declares Stewart Air National Guard Base A Superfund Site

WAMC, Allison Dunne
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (left) and Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino at Washington Lake

WAMC News has learned that New York state has declared Stewart Air National Guard Base in Orange County a Superfund site. The classification comes some three months after the public learned of PFOS contamination in the main source of drinking water for Newburgh. 

The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation’s declaration comes after some three months of investigations. Martin Brand is DEC acting Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Remediation and Materials.

“Our investigations have identified that the Stewart Air National Guard Base is a significant source of the PFOS contamination found in Lake Washington,” Brand says. “As you now some of the highest concentrations of PFOS that we detected to date, as high as 5,900 parts per trillion, have been found in outfalls from the Air National Guard base,  and those outfalls drain into Silver Stream and other tributaries to Lake Washington, which is the primary water supply for the City of Newburgh.”

The public learned of the PFOS contamination in early May after testing in Silver Stream and Washington Lake. The city now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct for which the state is picking up the tab. With Superfund site classification declared, Brand describes what is next.

“Well, the next step that we’re going to do is that we’re going to identify the U.S. Department of Defense as a potentially responsible party for the contamination detected in the area,” Brand says. “So we’re going to send them a notice of this determination, that the Air National Guard base will be listed on the Superfund, and ask them to step up and begin engaging with us to fully investigate the site, determine the nature and extent of contamination, and also to start developing any interim remedial actions or full remedial plan to solve the problem there.”

The state Superfund site declaration comes three days after U.S. Senator Charles Schumer visited Washington Lake and said he would introduce legislation that would require the Air Force to identify the source of water contamination in Newburgh and pay to clean it up if the Stewart Air National Guard base nearby is responsible.

“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.

The hookup to the Catskill Aqueduct is a longer-term but temporary solution. The DEC’s Brand says the state also will fund the installation of a permanent carbon filtration system, expected to be up and running by October 2017, funds it hopes to recoup from the responsible party or parties. Brand says the Superfund classification allows DEC to compel the responsible party to perform the needed investigation and remedial work and pay for the costs associated with that. Brand says DEC also can identify other responsible parties.

“We are also going to be continuing to investigate the area. And we’re also going to look at the Stewart International Airport, which is adjacent to the Air National Guard base and we will also be designating portions of that airport as a potential Superfund site,” says Brand. “That’s a slightly different classification than the Class II. This is a classification which indicates we have some information that indicates that it might be a potential source but more work is needed to actually define the nature and extent and sort of develop the connection between contamination and Lake Washington.”

PFOS was first detected in Newburgh’s water and reported to the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 when samples ranged between 140 and 170 parts per trillion. These samples were below the EPA’s then-provisional short-term health advisory of 200 parts per trillion. When sampling in March confirmed the presence of PFOS, it was about 140 parts per trillion. That was before the EPA issued a new, long-term health advisory in May of 70 parts per trillion as the threshold.

Preliminary data suggest the contamination is the result of the historic use of Class B firefighting foam at Stewart Air National Guard Base. Although phased out in 2002, PFOS has been a key ingredient in the types of firefighting foam used at the base for emergency response and training exercises.  

The Superfund site declaration is the latest action to come out of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Water Quality Rapid Response Team, and both DEC and the Department of Health will continue working with City of Newburgh and Orange County officials  to ensure clean drinking water for Newburgh residents.

Other locations upstate have been battling with PFOA contamination. In January, Governor Cuomo announced the Saint-Gobain facility in Hoosick Falls was declared a state Superfund site.  A state Senate field hearing is scheduled for August 30th in Hoosick Falls.  

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