An interim filtration system at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh was supposed to be up and running by the end of the summer. The remediation effort is intended to trap PFOS-laden water. The U.S. Department of Defense had committed to the measure in December but environmental groups and state officials have concerns.
The plan was for the Army Corps of Engineers to design and implement an interim, remedial measure at a major source of PFOS contamination — outfalls at Stewart Air National Guard Base, at Recreation Pond. It’s the site of some of the highest PFOS concentrations found to date. Erica Ringewald is a spokeswoman for the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“New York State DEC has asked the Department of Defense and their contractors to refine their proposed plan to treat water discharge from Recreation Pond to maximize the amount of water treated by the system and to minimize the levels in the discharge,’’ Ringewald says. “DEC believes that the treatment system must achieve the state’s recommended MCLs at a minimum, and should be designed to treat to the lowest possible levels of PFAS in the discharge.”
New York state is in the midst of a public comment period for recommended maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, for three drinking water contaminants — 10 parts per trillion each for PFOA and PFOS and 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane. Ringewald says DEC wants the temporary filtration system to meet the recommended MCLs at a minimum. Ophra Wolf is a City of Newburgh resident and member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project. And though she’d like to see New York come out with MCLs for PFOA and PFOS lower than 10 parts per trillion, she does not want DoD to be able to latch onto the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory level for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion each before the state gets MCLs on the books.
“This is something the community is going to have to be very, very vocal about in order to make sure that even at the interim level the water and the work is being done to the absolute best that it can be,” Wolfe says. “The technology is there to filter the water to non-detect. That’s what they should be doing.”
A spokesperson from the Air National Guard did not respond in time for this broadcast. Wolf, who met with DEC officials on the matter earlier this summer, is concerned, like the DEC, about the Army Corps’ temporary filter’s ability to handle storm surges. The water from Rec Pond makes its way to what was the main drinking water source for the city of Newburgh — Washington Lake, where PFOS contamination was found in May 2016. Testing showed that one of the outfalls discharging storm water into Rec Pond contained 5,900 parts per trillion PFOS, nearly 85 times the U.S. EPA health advisory limit. Again, the DEC’s Ringewald.
“We continue to work closely with the Newburgh community to keep them apprised of our efforts and to ensure they continue to have clean drinking water and to address contamination related to the Stewart Air National Guard Base,” says Ringewald. “We’ve been on the ground since day one and we’re not leaving until the job is done.”
Dan Shapley is water quality program director for Riverkeeper. He says discussion about the temporary filter’s capabilities came up during a July 31 informational meeting in Newburgh hosted by Stewart Air National Guard Base to discuss establishing a Restoration Advisory Committee as it pertains to the City of Newburgh's drinking water contamination at Washington Lake.
“The point of contention is whether the standards that clean up… that filter will be held to will be the federal government’s standards, which are weak, or the state’s standards, which are stronger. We understand the Department of Environmental Conservation, our own DEC in New York, is trying to enforce a limit of non-detect on any discharge that comes out of that filter,” Shapley says. “That’s what we want to support; that’s what we want to see happen; and we’re worried that the Department of Defense won’t hold itself to that high standard.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on behalf of the Air National Guard, had allocated $2.4 million in federal funding to install a filtration system at Rec Pond.