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Officials Detail PFOS Newburgh Blood Testing Program

About one month after the New York State Department of Health’s formal announcement of a PFOS blood testing program for Newburgh, state, federal and local officials were on hand during a public meeting Tuesday night to offer more details and answer questions.

It was the third public meeting concerning PFOS water contamination hosted by City of Newburgh officials. Most of the time was spent taking questions and comments. State Department of Health Director of the Center for Environmental Health Dr. Nathan Graber clarified that the free blood testing would not be confined solely to City of Newburgh residents.

“We would like to provide blood testing to anybody who wants it. Anybody who has any history of expsosure, we’d like the testing to be open to them,” Graber says. “If we confront capacity issues with the resources necessary to conduct that testing, we’ll look to our federal partners to assist us with those resources.”

Initially, the free tests will be held at two Cornerstone Family Healthcare locations in Newburgh starting November 1.

“Our program is just getting started in November,” Graber says. “We will have ongoing scheduling and expansion of the blood testing program as we learn more through this initial phase of testing.”

He says getting results from the specialized blood tests will take some time. Graber notes there are only two labs in the country that undertake this type of testing; one is in Albany. Plus, there is the task of putting the results in context. Graber anticipates results from the November tests will be available early next year. He says, as of Friday, some 174 individuals had signed up for blood testing, adding that the number likely grows to more than 300 considering one person may sign up for an entire family. Pine Bush resident Gary McDermott lived in New Windsor for most of his life, spending his early childhood next door in Newburgh. He signed up for blood testing and appreciates the complexity of the PFOS matter, with its many variables.

“It’s a difficult thing. It’s very difficult. I don’t know how you handle it,” McDermott says. “How do you know that the glass of water that you put in your hand and you pour down your… how do you know that’s safe? Anywhere, anywhere.”

New York in August declared Stewart Air National Guard Base a state Superfund site, with the likely source of PFOS contamination having come from the the base area because of the historic use of PFOS-containing firefighting foam. Three months earlier, the public learned of PFOS contamination in the main source of drinking water for Newburgh — Washington Lake.

Officials and area residents who attended the meeting say they were surprised the room at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center was not completely packed. Dorice Barnwell, who is pursuing a Master’s in Public Health, says she learned of the meeting and blood testing program the same day.

“The health information needs to be disseminated at all levels to everyone,” Barnwell says. “Sending a flyer in the mail is not cutting it. Knocking on the door to say, do you know about PFOS, is not cutting it.”

She and others say the schools should play a major role in spreading the word. And Barnwell believes information should be everywhere, including on telephone poles, in buses and shopping malls. Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino speaks to the blood testing program.

“I’m satisfied with the progress. I’m not satisfied with the community outreach. And that’s a shared responsibility, including the officials and myself included with the City of Newburgh,” says Ciaravino. “We need to double down on our efforts to reach the communities and different parts of our populations that have not yet chosen to participate in these studies.”

Graber says his department is working toward better outreach, having met with Newburgh’s religious leaders and school superintendent, and translating materials into Spanish and Creole.

“We’re engaging with community stakeholders, people who know the community, know the city, and know the surrounding areas, that will help us to really reach the people and get this information to them,” Graber says.

Again, Ciaravino.

“And we need to understand that as an environmental justice community, there is historic distrust in our community of government. There’s historic distrust of strangers unannounced knocking on one’s door,” says Ciaravino. “And that what we really have to do is work through those avenues where trust has been established. In Newburgh, that is ministries, that is relationships that have been built that are one off or two off from the City of Newburgh’s government.”

The city is drawing water from the Catskill Aqueduct while a permanent carbon filtration system is in the works for October 2017. And PFOS testing is not limited to residents. The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently conducted fish sampling at Moodna Creek and Recreation Pond. And sampling will continue at Beaverdam Lake and a tributary, Lockwood Basin/Washington Lake and Brown's Pond, a clean reference location, over the next few weeks. Each site is being sampled for one or more sportfish species, plus a minnow species to be evaluated for ecological food chain impacts. The fish will be analyzed for 13 perfluorinated compounds including PFOS and PFOA. The state Health Department will use the results to advise on fish consumption while DEC will examine potential ecological effects of the contamination. Results from the sampling are expected in early spring 2017.   

For blood sampling questions, contact the NYS DOH's Bureau of Environmental & Occupational Epidemiology, via email: beoe@health.ny.gov  or by phone (518) 402-7950.

NYS DOH Newburgh-specific PFOS page: 


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