Environmental and community advocates are calling for the immediate repair of a temporary water filtration system at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh that failed after about a month of use. It was supposed to trap PFOS-contaminated water. The advocates say the system was not equipped to handle the flow in the first place, a concern also shared by New York state officials.
The Army Corps of Engineers designed and implemented an interim, remedial measure at outfalls at Stewart Air National Guard Base, at Recreation Pond. It’s where some of the highest PFOS concentrations have been found since the water contamination crisis in Newburgh came to light in the spring of 2016. Dan Shapley is water quality program director for Riverkeeper.
“Finally, in late 2019, in December 2019, the Department of Defense did install a filter but the problem is it only functioned for less than a month and, even during that time, was not really able to handle rain runoff and was only able to handle the discharges that were happening in dry weather,” says Shapley. “So it was too small, it was too late in coming and it’s broken already. So we want to see that repaired. We want to see it, its size expanded, and see both those things as soon as possible to stop the pollution flowing off the base.”
Riverkeeper and others were voicing concern about the ability of the temporary system to treat stormwater, before the system even went online. Meantime, the Newburgh Clean Water Project joins Riverkeeper’s call for immediate repair and increased capacity. Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney’s 18th District includes all of Orange County.
“We’ve been told that it will be back up and running in August, so about a month from now, but, it’s taken way too long, as you know. It seems like it’s one thing after another with these guys and, at the end of the day, it’s just unacceptable,” Maloney says. “All of the problems that they’re experiencing were foreseeable. So it’s frustrating, but we’re going to stay on it till it gets fixed.”
A spokesperson for the Air National Guard did not respond in time for this broadcast. New York state Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson Erica Ringewald:
“Throughout DEC’s response to contamination in Newburgh, we have demanded that the Department of Defense take comprehensive actions to stem the flow of contamination from Recreation Pond and the Air National Guard Base,” Ringewald says. “And as we’ve said from the start, DOD’s filtration system was poorly designed and frankly not up to the task of eliminating discharges from the site. So we continue to call on DOD to make critical system improvements.”
Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus:
“Look, at the end of the day, they need to get into compliance,” Neuhaus says. “Everybody knows what needs to be done. Everybody knows the standard that needs to be met. And with this now filtration system where a lot of money, a lot of taxpayer money to bail this thing out is not working, that needs to be, that needs to be fixed.”
Meantime, New York state has recommended maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, for three drinking water contaminants — 10 parts per trillion each for PFOA and PFOS and 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane. The Public Health and Health Planning Council will consider adoption of the recommended levels at its July 30th meeting after two postponements because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory level for PFOA and PFOS is 70 parts per trillion each.
Without temporary filtration at Recreation Pond, Riverkeeper’s Shapley says PFAS pollution flows unabated into Silver Stream, which flows into Moodna Creek, a Hudson River tributary.
“We’ve always been concerned that the design of the filter would not treat stormwater in the type of rain that were’ getting more and more of, which is these intense bursts of heavy rains with climate change,” Shapley says. “So we need a filter that’s going to work in the real world, not one that just works on paper.”
He points out that New York state advises against eating fish from Silver Stream and parts of Moodna Creek because of the toxic contamination. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on behalf of the Air National Guard, had allocated $2.4 million in federal funding to install the temporary filtration system.