New York state health and environmental officials are updating residents on private well testing in Orange County near Stewart Airport and Stewart Air National Guard base. A number of wells have been tested for PFOA and PFOS with none exceeding federal safety guidelines. Still, some residents are concerned and say more needs to be done.
After Newburgh PFOS drinking water contamination was revealed in May 2016, investigations into the source and other potentially affected areas were launched. In November 2016, the state Department of Environmental Conservation sampled the Beaver Dam Lake watershed, and the state Department of Health began testing private wells in the area and beyond. They evaluated homes for Point Of Entry Treatment, or POET, systems, and, to date, have installed 33 systems. The state is paying for installation and continued maintenance. Maria Tupper-Goebel lives in the Lake District, but just outside the areas the state demarcated for well testing. During a state informational meeting Wednesday in Washingtonville, she suggested officials test all private wells in the district.
“Get it done so that you don’t have a bunch of people who don’t have the understanding, who don’t have the knowledge and they’re totally freaked out because all over our country, there are contaminations to water supplies, Flint, Michigan,” Tupper-Goebel says. “At one point, I wanted to be like, listen, folks, I know this is scary but we’re not dealing with lead here. Really, the reality is we live in a world of contaminants.”
There are roughly 800 homes in the Beaver Dam Lake District, where some 650 use private groundwater wells for their drinking water. State officials say the POET systems were installed out of an abundance of caution, and none of the wells tested came near the Environmental Protection Agency’s 70 parts per trillion health advisory. George Heitzman is the state DEC Remediation Bureau Director.
“Well, it’s certainly understandable that people are concerned when there’s contamination in their watershed,” says Heitzman. “Some of the wells we tested had some low levels of PFOS and we’ve put treatment systems on those.”
The two highest results measured combined PFOS and PFOA at roughly 20 parts per trillion in two sampling areas. Most results detected less than 2 parts per trillion. DOH has sampled 288 private wells, 204 of which are in the Beaver Dam Lake area. Beaver Dam Lake District resident Jim Hyland also lives outside the testing area. His neighbors verbally pounced on him when he said he felt comfortable with the state’s testing program and results. We pick up Hyland mid-sentence here…
“…hate to see a community get unnerved by something that is not as dangerous as our fears may project it to be,” Hyland says.
Hyland says he’s fine with his well not being tested.
“I’ve been reassured as a result of being here that there’s no high level of contamination, that those who are finding it, it’s very small,” says Hyland. “And almost all of the wells tested had no contamination at all, so I feel that I’m pretty safe.”
Others disagreed, wondering how the state could decide that a well just outside the areas chosen would not be tested. The Department of Health’s Wendy Kuehner responded during the meeting that she does not have the authority to test beyond the selected areas, arguing that resources are limited. A few residents yelled back that she should get the authority. Meantime, the DEC’s Heitzman says the investigation continues into the Beaver Dam Lake contamination.
“There are sources at the airport that need to be further investigated and there are actions that need to be taken to stop the sources from affecting this watershed,” Heitzman says.
He reiterated the state’s catch and release advisory, urging that people don’t eat fish from Beaver Dam Lake, following fish sampling results. Heitzman says the source of PFOS contamination in the Beaver Dam Lake District is different than the PFOS contamination source for Newburgh’s main drinking water supply, Washington Lake.
“The primary source to the Beaver Dam Lake area is a fire that was extinguished on the Stewart commercial International Airport back in 1996,” says Heitzman. “And we know the area where they pulled the plane off and they sprayed a lot of foam on it and, even all these years later, that area is contributing to contamination in the watershed that leads ultimately to Beaver Dam Lake.”
It’s referred to as the FedEx plane fire. Heitzman says the Newburgh PFOS contamination is in a different watershed and comes from Stewart Air National Guard base, where there were releases of highly concentrated firefighting foam from storage tank leaks and training exercises. The state declared the base a Superfund site in August 2016.