Law Firm Begins Investigating PFOS Water Contamination In Newburgh

May 10, 2016

The law firm that filed a class-action lawsuit against two companies connected with water contamination in Hoosick Falls is now investigating a water contamination issue in Newburgh.

 

Law firm Weitz & Luxenberg filed the suit on behalf of residents regarding PFOA water contamination in the upstate New York Village of Hoosick Falls in February. It now has its eyes on the City of Newburgh, where a sister chemical, PFOS, or Perfluorooctane Sulfonate, was found after testing in Silver Stream and Washington Lake, the main source of drinking water for Newburgh. City Manager Michael Ciaravino imposed a state of emergency May 2, which was lifted the following day as the city switched to a different water source, Brown’s Pond. Mayor Judy Kennedy, speaking May 3, assured the public it has no PFOS contamination.

“The water that you now find in the faucet is now perfectly safe to drink. It has no PFOS in it as of now,” said Kennedy.

Investigators are looking for the source of the contamination, which Kennedy said is not Washington Lake itself. Robin Greenwald, managing attorney of the Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit at Weitz & Luxenberg, says the firm fielded a few inquiries from Newburgh residents with news of the PFOS contamination.

“We had already been working on a PFOA water contamination in Hoosick Falls, New York. We’re looking at it in Vermont, New Hampshire. We follow it on our own,” says Greenwald. “And then when this hit the news, we got a few inquiries from people because they found out that we had been working PFOA issues.”

Private wells in North Bennington, Vermont, among others, have been grappling with PFOA contamination in recent months. Greenwald says her firm could hold a community meeting in Newburgh. And she explains the purpose of such a meeting.

“It’s a twofold purpose. One is so people can meet us and we learn so much from the community, more than they ever appreciate because they all think that they’re there to learn from us, but we learn so much from them,” Greenwald says. “And we’ll have a meeting and we’ll see who comes and see what kind of interest there is. Communities are different. Some communities don’t want to deal with the adversarial process of litigation, and some do.”

Greenwald says if the firm does hold a community meeting, it likely would be in a few weeks. At this stage, the law firm is trying to gauge the scale of the PFOS contamination.

“The information is much spottier in Newburgh than it was in Hoosick Falls,” Greenwald says.

She is inviting residents to come forward with information on how they may have been affected by the contaminated water. Neither Kennedy nor Ciaravino responded to requests for comment concerning Weitz & Luxenberg. Meanwhile, back on May 3, Kennedy declared that PFOS levels were still below an Environmental Protection Agency threshold, levels that had been in the lake for a few years.

“At no time has the level of PFOS been over the EPA guidelines, which has been 200 parts per trillion,” says Kennedy. “Our measurement has been at 140 parts per trillion.”

The state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation issued a May 9 letter to Newburgh’s mayor and city council members with results of drinking water samples taken in March. In addition, the letter shows results of non-drinking water samples, where, in most cases, the PFOS levels are much higher than in drinking water samples. The highest PFOS level — 5,900 parts per trillion — was from a Stewart Air National Guard Base retention pond sample during a high flow event. A DEC spokesman says one focus of the investigation into the source of contamination is on this retention pond and surrounding areas to see if stormwater runoff is a factor. PFOS is a chemical used in several products, including firefighting foam. The spokesman says the investigation is eyeing whether such foam was used near any of the water sources at this time.

DEC and DOH are assisting the city with investigating alternative drinking water and treatment options and will continue testing both drinking and non-drinking water sources.