New York state officials were in Newburgh this week to update the community on PFOS contamination and the blood testing program. It was the sixth community meeting in the city since PFOS contamination in Newburgh’s main drinking water source was discovered in May 2016.
In August 2016, New York state declared Stewart Air National Guard Base a Superfund site. Department of Environmental Conservation investigations identified the base as a significant source of the PFOS contamination found in Washington Lake, Newburgh’s main drinking water source. Federal and state officials have been pressing the Department of Defense to take responsibility for the contamination since then. DEC Deputy Commissioner Martin Brand says DoD is supposed to move forward with a site investigation shortly.
“We’ve made some comments on that investigation and pointed out its deficiencies and our concerns that it’s not going to be a robust enough investigation and it’s not going to produce those remedial measures that we’d like to see,” Brand says. “So we’re expecting to hear back from them very shortly with a schedule and what they’re going to do. And I think, at that point, we’re going to have to make some decisions on how we’re going to proceed with our negotiations with the Department of Defense.”
The state has found some of the highest concentrations of PFOS in outfalls from the base, at Recreation Pond. These outfalls drain into Silver Stream and other tributaries to Washington Lake. And, depending on how the DoD proceeds, Brand says it is likely the state will take action.
“New York state will step up and do what needs to be done if we can’t get the Department of Defense to step up and do what they need to do,” says Brand.
And that could mean installing a temporary filtration system for Recreation Pond, an area not initially included in the DoD survey of contamination locations and cleanup plan. Brand told the audience at the June 5 community meeting that state officials are losing patience with the Department of Defense and to stay tuned. Here’s Newburgh resident and attorney Jonathan Jacobson.
“So, you said ‘stay tuned’ so, bring the lawsuit, the city will join ’cause you’ve got the resources,” Jacobson says. “You’ve got to do it. That’s the only way.”
“It’s not going to happen from cooperation of the Trump administration. It’s not going to happen because they want to do the right thing,” says Jacobson. “They will only do the right thing if they’re forced to.”
Newburgh City Councilmember Genie Abrams also came to the microphone.
“Do we call somebody? Do we write letters to the editor? Do we have a public shaming campaign, a social media campaign, what, what?!” Abrams says.
In March, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told WAMC the state would be in court unless the federal government takes responsibility and pays for New York’s expenditures under Superfund. The DEC’s Brand Monday reiterated that intention.
“Certainly any legal, we’re going to use the full legal authority of the state to get the DoD, as we do anywhere in the state to get polluters that are responsible for contamination, to step up and do what they have to do and also reimburse the state taxpayers for their cost,” says Brand.
The meeting also allowed for an update on the state’s PFOS blood testing program. James Bowers is a research scientist at the state Department of Health. He says the results have mainly stayed the same throughout the testing, with the average level of exposure to PFOS around 20 for city residents. The national average is five.
“Well, we continue to be sending out blood-test orders for people who are requesting them. We’re sending out generally between 25 and 50 a week. We’ve tested a total of about 2,000 people so far. About three-quarters of those have gotten the results back,” Bowers says. “And we have about 2,500 that have yet to have their blood tested and we will be sending out a reminder note to them to remind them that the blood test order will be expiring at the end of June.”
He says after June, the department will take requests for blood tests.
“We will be continuing to look at the group level results,” Bowers says. “At some point down the road, we’ll put together a report outlining those results for the different demographics in the area.”
He says it is unknown when the report will come out and that will depend upon how many people are blood tested after June 30.
City of Newburgh resident Radee Anglin says it was his first PFOS community meeting and he has a concern.
“Not being able to know what exactly the PFOS can cause in a person, to do to a human body and to actually get some help or some resolution, or a solution for that,” Anglin says. “But I have faith and we will pull through this.”
He plans to have his blood tested. Meanwhile, Brand says the permanent carbon filtration system under construction is on schedule to be up and running in October. The city now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct.