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Forum On Newburgh PFOS Contamination Brings Enviro Updates

WAMC, Allison Dunne

The formal announcement of a blood testing program in Newburgh garnered the most attention during a public meeting Monday concerning an update on the PFOS water contamination issue. However, there were a few developments on the environmental side.

Though the state Department of Health was in the spotlight and residents mainly wanted to know more about a PFOS biomonitoring program, the state Department of Environmental Conservation delivered a few updates of its own. Dan Shapley is water quality program manager for Riverkeeper. He was the only non-government member of the panel during the public meeting at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh. Shapley says DEC officials mentioned a few developments that bode well for the environment.

“You heard the DEC say that they’re looking soon at some kind of treatment system for the water that’s coming out of the air force base that is contaminated. We’ve been calling for that,” Shapley says. “They are looking at fish testing soon, which is important. People get exposed by eating fish, and it’s contaminating the environment. So those are two important things.”

DEC Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Remediation and Materials Martin Brand said the fish sampling would begin this fall to assess any impacts from PFOS contamination. He said the sampling would occur in a few places, including Moodna Creek and Brown’s Pond. As for treating water from outfalls from Stewart Air National Guard Base, a filtration plan is being discussed. The DEC in August declared the base a Superfund site after its investigations showed that outfalls from the base were a significant source of the PFOS contamination found in Washington Lake, the main drinking water source for the City of Newburgh. PFOS contamination was detected at levels as high as 5,900 parts per trillion at the outfalls that drain into Silver Stream and other tributaries to Washington Lake.

Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino has been concerned about the potential for Washington Lake to overflow, given it has not been used as a drinking water source since May, and hurricane season has arrived. He’d been calling on the DEC to take action. Ciaravino, speaking Monday, commended the DEC for stepping in to treat and draw down the water and prevent contamination elsewhere.

“We’re not going to pollute our neighbors the way we were polluted, and that’s exciting. So that’s the good news,” says Ciaravino. “What needs to happen next is where it’s being discharged at Rec [Recreation] Pond at 5,900 parts per trillion, that should not come down Silver Stream untreated.  So if you could visualize this, tomorrow morning we’re going to have treated water, filtered water, coming out of Washington Lake while, if it’s raining, we’re still going to have untreated water coming right alongside it in the same Silver Stream untreated.”

And he describes the setup to drain and treat water from Washington Lake.

“And, by the way, what they’re doing is two hydraulically driven pumps, on a raft, right on Washington Lake. On Route 300, they’ve set up a temporary granular activated carbon treatment system. If you go there now, tomorrow morning, you’ll see 10 silos, about 15-, 20-feet tall that they’ve loaded the carbon into,” Ciaravino says. “And then what they’ve set up is a long, 12-inch diameter temporary piping parallel to Route 300 that goes all the way down to Silver Stream where it’s then going to be discharged once it’s been filtered.”

The DEC’s Brand, in August, informed Ciaravino that DEC had directed a state contractor to implement a plan to lower the water levels in Washington Lake. Orange County Legislator Chris Eachus, who represents the Town of New Windsor, also wants to see water from the outfalls at the base treated.

“Let’s stop the poisoning now,” Eachus says. “Cut off the water from Silver Stream. Stop it now.”

Eachus, a Democrat, is running against longtime Republican state Senator Bill Larkin. Newburgh now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct for which the state is picking up the tab. The DEC will fund the installation of a permanent carbon filtration system, expected to be up and running by October 2017. Preliminary data suggest the contamination is the result of the historic use of firefighting foam at Stewart Air National Guard Base. 

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