A recent accidental release of firefighting foam from a hangar at New York Stewart International Airport in Orange County is the subject of debate. The foam made its way into a stream, and testing on behalf of the City of Newburgh shows high levels of PFOA and PFOS. But the company that operates the hangar says the foam does not contain PFOA or PFOS. The state is awaiting separate results.
The accidental release of firefighting foam occurred April 13, and wended its way through storm drains to Silver Stream. An environmental consultant for the City of Newburgh took water samples from Silver Stream and a tributary April 14, and some of the results show levels of PFAS chemicals in excess of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. Interim Newburgh City Manager Joseph Donat:
“This contamination and the test results that we received back speaks to the vulnerability of the city’s watershed. Obviously, it’s worth stating and underscoring that this contamination does not impact or affect the city’s water source. We are currently on a different source and this is nowhere near the contaminated site,” says Donat. “However, the vulnerability of our watershed obviously continues to grow as time goes on. And this is yet another example of how serious the issue is and the critical need for the city to find a permanent, long-term, safe solution to this ongoing risk.”
The city’s main drinking water source, Washington Lake, below Silver Stream, has not been in use since PFOS contamination was announced nearly three years ago. The contamination emanates from Stewart Air National Guard base as the result of the historic use of firefighting foam there, a foam no longer in use. The city’s environmental consultant, Advanced GeoServices Engineering, shows one sample from a tributary flowing into Silver Stream with PFOS at 1,130 parts per trillion. Another sample from Silver Stream turned up PFOS at 541 parts per trillion. The results in the 107-page report show levels for other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
The hangar from where the firefighting foam was accidentally released belongs to Atlantic Aviation. Spokesman Bryant Madden says the foam is a C6 blend, not a C8 foam containing PFOS or PFOA. In a statement, he says the company is working closely and in cooperation with the state Department of Environmental Conversation and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in response to the accidental release and will continue to do so through the completion of the response, investigation and remediation processes.
DEC Chief of Staff Sean Mahar says experts from the agency continue to oversee the cleanup efforts of Atlantic Aviation.
“DEC is requiring the responsible party to deploy all available resources to assist with the cleanup and to ensure public health and the environment are protected. DEC will remain on scene overseeing ongoing cleanup operations and if any violations are uncovered, DEC will take any and all appropriate enforcement actions,” Mahar says. “In addition, DEC has directed the responsible party to undertake a comprehensive sampling effort of water and sediment, and will compare validated results with the city’s samplings. Information provided by the foam’s manufacturer including the material safety data sheet, reports that this foam did not include PFOS. However, DEC is requiring sampling of the foam itself, and will continue our efforts on this spill until the job is done.”
Dan Shapley is water quality program director for Riverkeeper.
“Well, this water is, of course, as we understand, not flowing into the city’s reservoir, which is the good news. The bad news is that it flows onto Moodna Creek and the Hudson River," Shapley says. "So that pollution is still going into the environment. It’s going to affect fish. It’s going to affect water quality along a whole number of stream miles.”
The report from the city’s consultant concludes that though the foam released April 13 was reportedly PFOS free, the concentrations of PFOS significantly increased from concentrations reported in samples collected September 28, 2018.