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Following Superfund Declaration For Stewart ANG Base, What's Next?

WAMC, Allison Dunne
Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino (r), U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (l)

Following Friday’s declaration of Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh a state Superfund site, people are wondering what’s next.

The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation declared Stewart Air National Guard Base a Superfund site some three months after the public learned of PFOS contamination in the main source of drinking water for Newburgh – Washington Lake. The next step, according to DEC acting Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Remediation and Materials Martin Brand, was to identify the U.S. Department of Defense as a potentially responsible party for the contamination detected in the area, asking them help fully investigate the site, determine the nature and extent of contamination, and start developing any interim remedial actions or full remedial plan.

In a statement, an Air Force spokesman says, “The Air Force has a long history of working with communities under the Superfund process to address environmental issues and protect human health and the environment. We will continue to collaborate with regulators to
address the issue.”

Then there’s what comes next after that. For Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino, a primary concern is discharging the contaminated water from Washington Lake. Here he is speaking just three days before the Superfund declaration.

“In other situations, we know this firsthand, that the DEC would require a capture, pre-treatment, before release,” Ciaravino says. “And so the direction we’re asking for is, in order to pump this water out, do we need to pre-treat it and, if so, please give us the guidance as well as the resources to do that. We don’t want to dump PFOS into the Moodna Creek and affect drinking wells possibly downstream from us.”

The DEC’s Brand says the state’s Superfund program can be brought to bear here.

“We’re working with the city to evaluate options for drawing down Lake Washington and we’ll continue to work with the city to address those concerns. We haven’t come up with a full plan yet for that but we’re working on that,” says Brand. “The expenses associated with that and, of course, the construction and maintenance of the filtration system for the water treatment plant is right now being covered by the state. Of course, we will seek to have the responsible parties come up with those costs in the future. And, again, as the investigations continue into the nature and extent we’ll be developing further remediation plans, including any interim remedial measures to address the contamination and we’ll keep working with the city on those.”

Ciaravino says a forecast rainy season has him concerned the lake could overflow and he’s worried about spending $300,000 on the following.

“We are about to purchase diesel pumps for Washington Lake because as we no longer use Washington Lake for our fresh water, the water level here rises,” Ciaravino says. “Our fire chief has advised that we need to preemptively reduce the level so that we don’t risk a spillover with the high hazard Class c earthen dam that’s over 150 years old.”

The city now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct, paid for by the state. Meanwhile, Riverkeeper spokesman Cliff Weathers sees the following as next steps.

“The next logical step is to take care of the residents there and to call for blood testing to see the PFOS exposure that the residents may have and the second step is actually to try to restore the watershed,” Weathers says.

In January, the Saint-Gobain facility in Hoosick Falls was declared a state Superfund site. Residents have since been blood tested and a state Senate field hearing is scheduled for August 30. Again, Weathers.

“So we use Hoosick Falls as the reference point of why you should be testing for toxins such as PFOA and PFOS,” Weathers says. “There’s many more sites in the United States outside of these two sites that they’re finding elevated levels of these chemicals and I think that’s something that should be looked at very carefully by state governments and also by the federal government.”

A state Department of Health spokesperson says in a statement, “The State is actively seeking technical guidance from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) regarding the feasibility and potential public health benefits of launching a blood testing program in the City of Newburgh. Should the facts support moving forward with blood testing, we will be formally requesting financial support from our federal partners, including the Department of Defense as a Responsible Party.”

The Superfund site declaration was the latest action to come out of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Water Quality Rapid Response Team.  

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