New York state officials were in Newburgh Monday night to update city residents and officials on the testing timeline and procedure for a new PFOS carbon filtration system. And while community members had concerns about the state-funded system, they also expressed frustration with PFOS blood testing results and potential health impacts.
State Department of Health officials joined with the Department of Environmental Conservation in discussing the new filtration system. They also heard from residents about health concerns following the state’s first round of a PFOS blood testing program that wrapped up December 31. Malinda Ware spoke up.
“I am concerned about drinking fresh water,” Ware says. “I am concerned about if a cost associated with anything, but what about the cost of the lives of the people that live here, that are going to die, and nobody’s answering that question. Nobody.”
Brad Hutton is state Health Department Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Public Health.
“And I know it is frustrating. It’s frustrating to us trying to explain those results, but the results come with a lot of caveats and a lot of gaps in information,” says Hutton. “And that’s not because we’re hiding it; it’s not because we’re not doing our jobs; it’s just because that’s the state of the science.”
Newburgh City Councilor Torrance Harvey says he continues to have questions about how to interpret the results and potential health effects.
“What are we going to do with those persons, including myself, that have tested high when we look at the national average of PFOS contaminants in our bloodstream, and so on,” says Harvey. “What are going to to remediate those kind of concerns.”
Hutton says PFOS blood levels have dropped from a median of about 23 when the free testing began in November 2016, to a median of around 17. The national average is five. He says more than 3,700 people have had PFOS blood testing. Again, Malinda Ware, who also serves as a City of Newburgh Human Rights Commissioner.
“It felt like, to me, what the Department of Health was saying is that, we don’t have a study, so guess what, you guys are going to be our lab rat,” says Ware. “You’re going to be our lab rats, and when we get a good study in 15 years, when that 3,500 [people tested], maybe 700 of them are dead, then we’ll know that PFOS is dangerous.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says studies have linked PFOS with potential health risks such as birth defects and damage to the liver and thyroid, along with elevated risks of kidney and testicular cancers. PFOS contamination was found in Newburgh’s main drinking water source — Washington Lake — in 2016. The city has been drawing water from the Catskill Aqueduct while a new filtration system was being built. Testing on the new system is slated to begin in March. Again, council member Harvey.
“What I suggest and recommend, give everyone that has been tested and proven to be contaminated with PFOS free health care,” Harvey says. “Let’s give them the same free health care that our Congressmen and women, at the Senate and congressional level get. Let’s appropriate free health care until the science gets there.”
Meanwhile, in December, a bill from Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney called the “Investing in Testing Act” was signed. It directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a five-year, $7 million study into the long-term health effects of PFOS and PFOA. Newburgh City resident Ophra Wolf…
“How are we making sure that Newburgh, for example, is part of a national study that just got funded,” Wolf asks. “Who’s lobbying for us to be part of that study?”
“And we’ll continue to work with the federal government to make sure that communities in New York state like Newburgh and others are included in that important study,” says Hutton.
Wolf also wanted to know when the Health Department, given it has a cancer registry, would come out with a report about possible correlations between cancer and PFOS exposure. Again, Hutton.
“Yes, we’ll be conducting a cancer incidence investigation, which will look at the residents of Newburgh, their cancer experience based upon what we would expect based on the demographics of the community,” says Hutton. “And we’ll report back in the future to Newburgh residents on whether or not we see any elevations in cancer that could potentially be related to the PFOS exposure.”
He expects to report back on this by the end of the year.
And Hutton says the state Department of Health will return to Newburgh in a few years for Phase Two of its PFOS blood testing program.
“The typical half-life for PFOS is about 4-5 years, and so we do plan on coming back in about two years inviting all of, those of you who participated in the first round; and, if you didn’t participate in the first round you’ll have another opportunity to have your blood tested,” Hutton says.