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City Of Newburgh Sues Over PFOS Water Contamination

WAMC, Allison Dunne

Newburgh officials are suing a number of parties concerning PFOS contamination found in the city’s water supply — Washington Lake –  more than two years ago. The city wants to be reimbursed for costs associated with the contamination, and it wants the contamination cleaned up.

The lawsuit filed Monday follows a notice of intent to sue from February. The suit seeks to stop PFOS contamination of the city’s water supply, as well as other chemicals under the same PFAS umbrella. New York state has already determined that PFOS originated at Stewart Air National Guard Base and Stewart International Airport, and has found some of the highest concentrations of PFOS from outfalls at the base. Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey:

“We want to hold people accountable for what has happened to the city residents of Newburgh,” says Harvey. “We want to make sure that punitive damages are paid out.”

The city is suing the U.S. Air Force, The Port Authority of New York & Jersey, which operates New York Stewart International Airport, New York state and manufacturers of firefighting foam. In August 2016, the state designated Stewart Air National Guard base a Superfund site, after finding the source of PFOS contamination in Washington Lake was the historic use of firefighting foam at the base. Harvey says the suit also seeks compensation for water bills.

“When our water was contaminated, it’s been contaminated for a number of years, and people paid for bad water in the city of Newburgh. So there has to be some sort of compensation for that,” Harvey says. “We want to set up a water rebate fund through our state and federal government.”

The city is asking the court to find the defendants liable for the extensive contamination and require the cleanup of the city watershed, among other actions. Spokespeople for the U.S. Air Force and The Port Authority declined to comment on pending litigation. A spokesperson for New York state did not respond in time for this broadcast. Tamsin Hollo is with the Newburgh Clean Water Project.

“We’re glad to see the City of Newburgh fighting for its residents but, at the same time, we’re urging the city, the county, state and federal agencies to participate in a highly transparent process to protect our water which would address the entire class of PFAS chemicals, not just PFOS, and would prevent all contaminants entering our watershed, including new developments proposed by the Town of Newburgh, which would directly affect the quality of our water supply,” says Hollo.

Meantime, a state-funded $25 million filtration system for the city has been constructed but is not online. In July, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said testing protocols were being worked out and was confident the system would protect city residents. Hollo and others have voiced concern about the ability of the system to catch PFAS chemicals beyond PFOS. The city continues to draw water from the Catskill Aqueduct, but, says Harvey, this source is about to be unavailable for 10 weeks beginning October 2.

“We’re going to be drawing down from Brown’s Pond for the 10 weeks starting in October when the Catskill Aqueduct is offline for its repair,” says Harvey. “And I’m being told we have enough water to hold us through that time period.”

Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino says that’s unless the Town of New Windsor also uses Brown’s Pond during the 10-week shutdown period. Ciaravino says the city will not use Washington Lake water during the shutdown of the Catskill Aqueduct because of the ongoing contamination of the watershed, inadequate treatment, and lack of standards. He says the city has been forced to use taxpayer dollars to engineer solutions to ensure it has an adequate supply of clean water from its secondary water supply, Brown’s Pond.

In June, New York state sued six manufacturers of hazardous firefighting foam that contained PFOA and/or PFOS. The lawsuit alleges that the foams used at military and civilian airports caused widespread contamination, as in the case of Newburgh.

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