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City Manager Urges Newburgh To Stand Firm On Addressing PFOS Water Contamination

As the Newburgh city manager prepares to leave his post at the end of the year, he is speaking out against the use of a state-funded granulated activated carbon filtration system. New York had the system built to filter PFOS and other contaminants from Newburgh’s drinking water supply.

PFOS contamination was found in Newburgh’s main drinking water source — Washington Lake — in 2016. That August, New York state designated Stewart Air National Guard base a Superfund site, after finding the source of PFOS contamination was the historic use of firefighting foam at the base. The state funded and constructed a $25 million filtration system for the city that was supposed to be up and running by now or, at least tested, but various issues are at play. One is that outgoing Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino has been digging in his heels against the system’s use.

“We’re not testing the GAC with Washington Lake water,” Ciaravino says. “There are a number of issues that relate to the flaw and the design of that treatment plant as well as other issues that we’ve brought up in litigation that simply have to be addressed before we’re going to allow Washington Lake water to come into that plant.”

Is it sitting idle?” asks Dunne.

“It is not sitting idle. We’re filtering water from Brown’s Pond. And we have an expectation that we’ll continue on the Catskill Aqueduct. I believe that the City of Newburgh should never ever drink water from Washington Lake, and that we have a readily available source through the Catskill Aqueduct, and that the agreement that needs to be reached between the state of New York and the City of Newburgh is to be permanently on Catskill Aqueduct water,” says Ciaravino.

New York state Department of Environmental Commissioner Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Remediation & Materials Management Martin Brand:

“Contrary to the city manager’s opinion, granular activated carbon removes PFCs, short and long chains, from the water. The system was designed with the best interests of the community in mind, has multiple redundancies to assure its effectiveness and will be rigorously monitored to ensure it is treating all perflourinated compounds from the water supply,” says Brand. “We remained committed to working with the city and this community to test this system and prove its effectiveness for treating these compounds and providing clean water.”

Newburgh was using Brown’s Pond water during repairs to the Catskill Aqueduct. Ciaravino was speaking November 15, after a public forum in Newburgh with senior officials from the Department of Defense. It was the first time DoD officials held such a forum on the PFOS water contamination. Since New York built the system, there has been more discussion about so-called short-chain PFAS, and whether filtration systems can weed them out. Chemicals like PFOS and PFOA fall under the PFAS umbrella. Ophra Wolf is a city resident and member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project.

“There’s contention around whether the GAC system can or cannot filter out the short-chain PFAS,” Wolf says.

Outgoing DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos spoke with WAMC earlier in November.

“I’m 100 percent clear and certain that those systems will work for the PFAS, both the long chain and the short chains. The same systems, these carbon treatment systems, have been put in place elsewhere in the country and they’ve been proven to work,” said Seggos. “Whenever we install a system, we need to run it at scale, run the actual water through the actual system that we built to make sure it’s working. That worked very well in Hoosick Falls. We intend to test the Lake Washington water down in Newburgh to make sure that that water runs through the system we designed and produces clean, PFOA-free water.”

Ciaravino intensified his stance during a November 26 city council meeting.

“And it’s more important for the City of Newburgh, a question of having the political backbone and the legal fortitude — we’re represented by competent counsel and litigation counsel — to hold our ground and not have lobbyists, the professionals from Albany coming down here and chipping away one representative at a time until they get the votes to convince us that we need to compromise our position for a grand ribbon-cutting or perhaps a visit to the governor’s mansion,” Ciaravino says. “This is about the City of Newburgh. This is about the City of Newburgh’s water into perpetuity. And it is my hope that this community will continue to be on the Catskills’ water into perpetuity until the State of New York and United States Government get their act together.”

Some of the highest concentrations of PFOS emanate from outfalls at the base, at Recreation Pond. And there has been talk for some time about how to address the problem. Newburgh City Manager Ciaravino:

“What we would like is an immediate action step, whether coordinated or uncoordinated, with the Department of Defense, to build a granular activated filtration system to stop that water from coming down into the Moodna Creek,” says Ciaravino.

DEC’s Brand in 2017 said they had performed investigations at Rec Pond to develop some of the engineering parameters to possibly come up with an interim solution, like temporary filtration, but was hoping to get the Department of Defense to step up and take charge. The Newburgh Clean Water Project’s Wolf:

“The pollution is continuing unmitigated from the source. So essentially we would be testing how well our municipal system filters out the air base’s pollution, which makes absolutely no sense,” says Wolf. “They need to stop the pollution at the source and then we can talk about testing the system that exists.”

Again, Ciaravino:

“What PCBs were to the ‘60s and ‘70s, we believe that PFOS and the PFOA and the PFCs are to this era. And we’re going to be talking about PFCs for the next 30, 40 years. Certainly in my lifetime, this is going to be the PCB of our era, and we all ought to start mobilizing and acting like it,” Ciaravino says. “On behalf of the citizens of Newburgh, we need to permanently be on Catskill Aqueduct water because this mess is never going to be cleaned up.”

In total, the state has spent about $50 million to address PFOS contamination in Newburgh and work to bring clean drinking water to the city.

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