U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer was in Orange County Friday afternoon, claiming the Department of Defense is evading its responsibility to clean up PFOS contamination at Stewart Air National Guard base.
New York’s Senator Schumer was in New Windsor, accusing the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force of using every trick in the book to avoid paying for the cleanup up PFOS contamination that came to light one year ago.
“You know what our parents taught us — You make a mess, you clean up the mess,” Schumer says. “DoD, USAF, you made the mess, now you clean it up and stop playing games that kick the can down the road.”
Schumer, a Democrat, says media reports portray the DoD as pursuing avenues for indemnification. Earlier this year, an Air Force Civil Engineer Center spokesman said they expected to begin soil and water sampling in the spring with a report ready by fall 2017 for locations on the base. Schumer says his office has received indications from the Air Force that it does not intend to produce a report or work plan until the fall because of an internal policy that requires DoD take its own contamination samples.
“Our state has done samples of how toxic the mess is. You know what DoD is saying? They’re not going to accept those samples. They’re going to do new samples,” Schumer says. “This is a way of slow walking. Slow walking is something bureaucrats do, but it is infuriating, infuriating because people’s health is at risk, their water supply is at risk, and this is not a place where bureaucracy as usual can be allowed.”
An Air Force spokesman was unable to be reached in time for this broadcast to respond to Schumer’s comments. Schumer delivered his remarks outside a temporary filtration site, on the Friday afternoon of a Memorial Day weekend.
“Now why am I here in Orange County? Because we’re fed up with DoD , plain and simple,” says Schumer. “DoD has been delaying and delaying and delaying when it comes to the contamination of the water of the City of Newburgh.”
The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation declared Stewart Air National Guard Base a Superfund site in August 2016, noting that the agency’s investigations identified the base as a significant source of the PFOS contamination found in Washington Lake, Newburgh’s main drinking water source. The contamination culprit is believed to be the historic use of firefighting foam. Schumer has penned a letter to the secretary of the Air Force urging that it begin developing a work plan using site samples from the DEC. Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino says if the Department of Defense won’t defend the city and its water, perhaps it’s time to go higher.
“Maybe it’s time for the Commander in Chief to hear us and to issue the order to do the right thing for the City of Newburgh,” Ciaravino says.
Schumer says he will appeal to the Secretary of Defense if need be.
“DoD asks me for all kinds of things. I’m happy to help our soldiers. I’m happy to help our strong defense, but I will go right to the top and ask them to get to the bottom of this if the Air Force doesn’t solve it, if DoD at the lower levels doesn’t solve it on their own,” says Schumer. “That’ll shake ‘em up.”
The city now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct and the state also will fund the installation of a permanent carbon filtration system, expected to be up and running in the fall.