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Hudson Valley News

NYS DOH Formally Announces PFOS Blood Testing Program For Newburgh

A public meeting last night concerning an update on the PFOS water contamination issue in Newburgh brought a formal announcement about the launch of a blood testing program for the city. But with it came more questions and concerns.  

Many more seats were filled in the auditorium at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh than at the first such public forum in June. Local, state and federal officials first delivered a recap of what has been done to address PFOS contamination and residents grew impatient, wanting to hear more about a blood testing program.

That was Newburgh City Councilman Torrance Harvey, among others, interrupting state Department of Health Director of the Center for Environmental Health Dr. Nathan Graber. Graber did announce a comprehensive blood testing program for the city of Newburgh.

“And we’re going to be working with our federal colleagues at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to understand the best way to do this and create a national model for how to respond to these effectively,” Graber says.

Harvey still has questions and concerns.

“I talk to my constituents on a daily basis and they want to know, when are they going to start the testing. They didn’t’ tell us that tonight They continue to skirt around the issue,” Harvey says. “And I don’t mean to be aggressive, but we’re talking about human lives.”

Orange County Legislator Jim Kulisek passed Harvey in the lobby during the forum, saying he thinks Harvey’s critique is too harsh.

“It’s not just him. It’s some people in there.. There’s a slew of people here to help and everybody’s in there berating them,” Kulisek says. “They didn’t cause this. They’re here trying to make things right for somebody else’s problem that had been caused by them.”

And Graber responds to Harvey’s calls for when, where and how.

“I think we certainly appreciate him advocating on behalf of his community and we’re going to work as hard as we can to provide that information as soon as possible,” Graber says.

Asked whether he were clear on the blood testing program announcement, Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino answered:

“I’m not. It felt like a bit of a tease,” says Ciaravino. “There was a lot working up to tonight’s event that we believed there was going to be more of an announcement, more specifics.”

The Newburgh forum comes a few weeks after state Senate and Assembly hearings on the fallout from PFOA-contaminated water in Hoosick Falls, where officials and residents expressed anger and frustration. Meanwhile, Graber says that for the biomonitoring program in Newburgh, DOH will be working with local leaders, community groups, and federal partners to conduct coordinated outreach and ensure participation from a cross-section of residents. He says a cross section would include city residents from different neighborhoods, backgrounds, and different potential for degrees of exposure.

“So the idea is to get as many people to reach out to us as possible, to get them to sign up, and work as hard as we can to provide the capacity to give them the services that they’re asking for,” Graber says.  “And if our capacity gets exceeded, we’ll turn to our federal partners to ask them for support and assistance.”

“What is the capacity then for the state?” asks Dunne.

“So I don’t think we have an answer to that exact question at this time,” Graber says. “It’s something that we’re trying to work out as we go through what the program’s going to exactly be delivering for the people of the city.”

Orange County Legislator Chris Eachus, a Democrat running against longtime state Senator Bill Larkin, says the Health Department needs to cast a wider net for its blood testing program.

“The podium, the folks up on the podium there, or on the stage, seem pretty satisfied that they’re taking care of the City of Newburgh,” says Eachus. “And yet, right now, as we speak, that PFOS water is still pouring down Silver Stream getting into wells for the people of the City of Newburgh, the Town of New Windsor and the Town of Cornwall, and yet they haven’t been mentioned.”

Larkin had been calling for the blood testing on behalf of his constituents.

“They want this and they want it now,” says Larkin.

New York in August declared Stewart Air National Guard Base a state Superfund site, some three months after the public learned of PFOS contamination in the main source of drinking water for Newburgh — Washington Lake. Dan Shapley is water quality program manager for Riverkeeper.

“We want nothing less for Newburgh than was delivered for Hoosick Falls or other communities where blood testing was made available to anyone who had been exposed and wanted to get that blood testing,” Shapley says. “That’s the test that the Department of Health needs to meet here.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says studies show that exposure to PFOS can result in damage to the thyroid and liver, decreased fertility in women and babies with low birth weights and different developmental effects. The city now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct for which the state is picking up the tab. The state also will fund the installation of a permanent carbon filtration system, expected to be up and running by October 2017.

Maritza Medina is a City of Newburgh resident who took advantage of the EPA’s Spanish translation and interpretation services at the forum. She was signing up for blood testing in the lobby. Medina was with her son, who is 16, so Medina thought he would not be permitted to be tested because of age.

“He’s still a minor. Can he register? I thought it was only for older people to register,” says Medina through a translator.

The translator informed her that, in fact, he may sign up. Newburgh residents interested in participating or learning more may email the state Health Department at beoe@health.ny.gov or call (518) 402-7950. There also is a Water Quality Hotline at 1-800-801-8092.  

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