The second set of PFOS blood test results is being mailed to Newburgh area residents. During a public meeting on PFOS water contamination Monday night, New York State Department of Health officials said envelopes are being stuffed and a meeting date is being planned to discuss the results. Meanwhile, some people voiced concern over the meaning of the results.
The public meeting on PFOS contamination was held at the Baptist Temple in Newburgh. City and state officials delivered updates and took questions and comments from community members. Here’s state Department of Health spokesman Gary Holmes.
“We’re happy to be able to report that results will be going out this week in the mail. And these are the individuals who’ve been tested up to January 29,” Holmes says. “It’s another approximately 370 people.”
The first set of PFOS blood test results, also for 370 people, was discussed in Newburgh at the end of February. So far, Holmes says about 1,000 people have been tested. Another 2,300 have received their orders to get tested. However, some, like Newburgh activist Omari Shakur, question the point of being tested without a definitive outcome or diagnosis.
“So why we having these meetings asking to be tested, tested for what? Because if I’m tested and I’m sick, what are you going to do for me? What are the solutions?” Shakur asks. “I mean we having these meetings, like I said, for a year and, like I said, I’m in the community every day and my community is not getting no information.”
State health officials handed out information cards about Newburgh’s drinking water and PFOS. The card is in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. The latest effort in the department’s community outreach program drew praise from several in attendance. Again, Holmes.
“One of the big efforts on our end here is to focus on community outreach, make sure folks know that there’s an opportunity to be tested, reach communities that maybe haven’t been reached before,” Holmes says.
State health officials and others acknowledge the difficulty in reaching Newburgh’s population, with a significant poor community and residents who distrust government. They have been trying different avenues. Still, Shakur remains dubious of the blood testing program.
“Why would I would be tested if I don’t know what I’m being tested for and what’s going to be the results. I don’t want to know if I’m sick and don’t have no solutions, no remedy,”
“So you haven’t been tested,” says Dunne.
“No,” Shakur answers.
“And do you plan to,” asks Dunne.
“No, I don’t drink the water,” says Shakur.
Shakur says he doesn’t drink the water because he doesn’t know if it is safe. City and state officials since May repeatedly have told the public the water is safe to drink. Since learning of PFOS contamination in the city’s drinking water, the city has been drawing water from the Catskill Aqueduct. And the state is funding the installation of a permanent carbon filtration system, expected to be up and running in October.
Newburgh City Councilman Torrance Harvey has been a regular at the public meetings on PFOS contamination.
“They need to say specifically, these are your results, and these are the levels, and this is what the possibilities, health effects could be. And if they’re not spelling that out for the citizens, then what’s the point of taking the test,” Harvey says. “So I have my constituents in the community that haven’t, because there’s a large number that still haven’t, and they’re saying, what’s the point, if they’re not telling us how to interpret these results, what’s the point what’s the point of taking it?”
He believes government officials are not making a direct link between a certain illness and high blood levels of PFOS for fear of liability and legal action. Again, state Health Department spokesman Holmes.
“We certainly can understand and sympathize with those who are frustrated with the process. I think community, thoughtful community discussions like this one help go a long way towards providing some of those answers,” says Holmes. “I think one of the consistent messages you heard this evening is one that you’ll hear at future meetings, is that we want to make sure that we can get as many people tested to get a greater determination in terms of the exposure.
And state health officials continued to underscore the importance of discussing the results with one’s health care provider. In February, state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker addressed the first set of PFOS blood testing results.
“So what we found was that the average Newburgh blood test results from the chemical PFOS were above the current national average. Now unfortunately the presence of PFOS in the blood only indicates exposure since that exposure has occurred,” Zucker says. “The challenge is that science has simply not yet established whether future health outcomes will result from the specific blood levels that we’ve detected. And we all share the concerns of everyone in Newburgh who got tested, they received their results, and then they want to know what these results mean for their health. And then they find out that the research simply doesn’t exist.”
Holmes says the free blood testing program that began in November is going well, and there has been an uptick in numbers of people being tested since the program expanded this year to four locations in the city.