Newburgh PFOS Meeting Carves Outreach Path Into Church Community
City of Newburgh officials held their fourth public meeting Monday night on PFOS water contamination and New York state’s blood testing program. Some audience members voiced concern about the information not getting out to enough people. Officials say they will try other approaches, including through churches.
The meeting with city, state and federal officials was held in Baptist Temple Church, where Byron Williams is pastor.
“Yes, I do have a concern that more of the grassroots community get this information and use it in a beneficial and a helpful way,” Pastor Williams says.
Karen Mejia is a Newburgh city councilwoman.
“It’s really important for us to venture out and cross that bridge of the faith-based,” Mejia says. “We have a lot of churches in the City of Newburgh that touch a lot of households. I think having that trust between the pastors and the congregations is something that we need to move on.”
As city resident Roxy Royal says:
“A lot of the people don’t read the papers. They don’t read,” Royal says. “They don’t seek the information so they don’t know.”
The outreach is progressing, but slowly, and though some 3,000 households have signed up with the state for blood testing, there are about 30,000 residents in the city, plus those living nearby and others who study or work there. Michael Ciaravino is Newburgh city manager.
“The most important thing is our choice of forum. We chose the Baptist Church here in the City of Newburgh that is our avenue into a whole section of our community that has thus far not attended many of our other forums,” Ciaravino says. “And what we like about this opportunity is to build relationships with our ministers to get the word out about the importance of testing as well as the importance of the City of Newburgh’s drinking water being the cleanest it’s ever been in the last two, three, four decades.”
He says ministry-based outreach is just one approach but a promising one. With the meetings having been far from packed, Mayor Judy Kennedy says different types of outreach are needed.
“I believe we are going to have to go where the people are versus having the people try to come to meetings,” Kennedy says. “We probably need to start doing the church circuit.”
And, she says, going to schools, and school assemblies. The state Health Department’s blood testing program began in November and about 287 people have been tested. Testing dates are scheduled through December 20 at Cornerstone Family Healthcare’s Lake Avenue location. And dates are being set up for January. Dr. Betsy Lewis-Michl is director of the Division of Environmental Health Assessment in the state Department of Health’s Center for Environmental Health.
“We put out a request-for-proposal announcement for a contractor to assist with the field work for this project knowing that it’s a relatively large population compared to any kind of biomonitoring effort of this type. We knew we would need help to get it done,” Lewis-Michel says. “Right now, we’re moving slowly through the list of people but actually we’ve reached probably a third of people on the list with phone calls for appointments. But we’ll be stepping up our outreach once we have the contractor in place.”
She says the RFP went out about three weeks ago and proposals are due December 23.
“This will go into the spring certainly because we want to do enough outreach so that we’re sure that we get a representative group of the population as well as anyone who’s interested, but it’s important to us that we really capture people who’ve lived here a really long time, at least some portion of the elderly, people who might not be all that interested, we’re going to reach out and try to make sure we a good picture of exposure here.”
Ciaravino has floated the idea of providing mobile blood testing outside the churches and the state health department’s Lewis-Michl says that certainly is a possibility. The public learned about the PFOS contamination in the city’s main drinking water source — Washington Lake — in May. The city has been drawing water from the Catskill Aqueduct while a permanent carbon filtration system is in the works for October 2017.