Over the past three years, there have been numerous meetings regarding the ongoing PFOS water contamination issue in Newburgh. A state senator who represents the city says the meetings have not gathered all relevant stakeholders in one room, and wants to change that, especially with regard to the state’s water filtration system.
Soon after PFOS was found in 2016 in Newburgh’s main drinking source, Washington Lake, the city began drawing water from the Catskill Aqueduct. In addition, New York funded and constructed a $25 million filtration system for the city of Newburgh with the intention of switching back to Washington Lake. And while the new system is running, it is not yet doing so with water from Washington Lake. Democratic state Senator James Skoufis of the 39th district says it’s time to involve more stakeholders in the same meeting.
“At no point, it’s my understanding, have all of the relevant stakeholders gotten into a room and talked with one another,” Skoufis says. “So, the city talked with DEC, the city talked with DOH, DOH talked with DEC; no one’s talking all together in a room, and so my office has been working to facilitate exactly that.”
The state had custom built the granulated activated carbon filtration system for Newburgh. Again, Skoufis.
“I expect in the coming weeks there will be a meeting bringing every single person that is relevant to this plant and relevant to the contamination into a room in the city, along with all the local stakeholders and so we can make the best decision available to us based on science and facts,” says Skoufis. “We need to make sure that if this plant is not truly safe then it should not get hooked up to, but that is incumbent upon the DEC and DOH to prove otherwise. And so we’re all going to get into a room for the first time, which I think is an important first step.”
Sean Mahar is state Department of Environmental Conservation chief of staff.
“Well, we’re not sure what meeting the senator is referring to but we are obviously always ready, willing and able to meet with anyone in the community at any time. We are a regular presence in the Newburgh community, and we’re not leaving until the job is done. So anytime folks need to have a meeting to learn the latest of what we’re doing, our doors are always open and we’re always here for the community,” says Mahar. “And we meet regularly with city officials and other local groups, and we’re happy to continue meeting with anyone who wants to at any point in time.”
Mahar says Catskill Aqueduct water is running through the city’s treatment system, including through the GAC system the state built.
“What we have to do is still test that filtration system with water in Lake Washington to run the final QA/QC [quality assurance/quality control] check to show the community and everyone that it effectively treats all the contaminants that are found in Lake Washington,” Mahar says. “It was designed to do just that and we know it will effectively do it, but what we have to do is just run the test using Lake Washington water.”
He says DEC is working with Newburgh city officials to schedule that test. Democratic state Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson of the 104th district:
“Well, my position has been, since I was on the city council, that we should stay hooked up to the Catskill Aqueduct, the New York City water supply because we can’t trust Washington Lake to ever be ready because the contamination has not been remediated,” Jacobson says.
Jacobson does not believe the state’s filtration system for Newburgh should be filtering water already contaminated with PFOS. Mahar reiterates DEC’s confidence that the GAC system will provide clean water from Washington Lake. In August 2016, New York state designated Stewart Air National Guard base a Superfund site, after finding the source of PFOS contamination was the historic use of firefighting foam at the base. The Department of Defense has twice visited Newburgh to hold public forums, most recently saying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is designing a carbon filtration system at the Recreation Pond outflow at the base, from where some of the highest concentrations of PFOS emanate.