With news that a temporary filtration system is back on track at Stewart Air National Guard base, officials are keeping a close eye on the timeline for the project. The remedial measure is supposed to address PFAS contamination.
The Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with designing and implementing the interim measure at outfalls at the base, at Recreation Pond. It’s where some of the highest PFOS concentrations have been found since the water contamination crisis in Newburgh came to light in the spring of 2016. U.S. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh a few weeks ago, saying she was briefed on the temporary filtration issue.
“That’s what I understood, that in the next eight weeks they’re going to be constructing the filtration system,” says Gillibrand. “They’re going to issue a report that people will have access to about the results of their testing and how long they think it will take to clean up.”
A spokeswoman at Stewart Air National Guard base says work at Rec Pond began October 8, the day after Gillibrand’s visit. Prior to Gillibrand’s visit, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said bureaucratic red tape had been holding up the process. The fellow Democrat from New York then urged the Air Force, Air National Guard and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to immediately sign the contracts needed for the project to move along. Gillibrand said that was accomplished. Dan Shapley is water quality program director for Riverkeeper.
“Well, it feels a little bit like Groundhogs Day because we were here in the spring when the Department of Defense said they would have it up and running by the end of summer,” says Shapley.
New York state Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Erica Ringewald:
“This filtration system is a critical first step to eliminating discharges of contamination into the City of Newburgh’s watershed and drinking water supply,” Ringewald says. “However, this system will only collect and treat storm water from small-to-medium size storms, and DEC is calling on the Department of Defense to take additional measures to improve its performance.”
A few days before Gillibrand’s visit to the base, Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, whose district includes all of Orange County, wrote to Air National Guard Director Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice, expressing his concern at the lack of progress of the Recreation Pond filtration system installation. Since Gillibrand’s visit, Maloney lays out what’s supposed to happen.
“We made that an absolute priority because you want to stop the ongoing contamination so that you then can effectively do the remediation,” Maloney says. “You’ve got to make sure the remediation is paid for by the Department of Defense. So that’s the sequence of events.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on behalf of the Air National Guard, had allocated $2.4 million in federal funding to install the temporary filtration system. Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice visited Newburgh in April to update the public on plans to address the PFOS contamination. He was there with Assistant Secretary of the Air Force John Henderson, who said this at the time:
“That filter will be in place while we do the rest of the assessment and determine what the final solution is. And then, and then it maybe, maybe that’s replaced with a permanent filter or maybe it’s replaced with a whole different technology. Maybe we can stop the flow out of those pipes altogether and there’ll be no need for a filter. That would be our goal,” says Henderson. “And so, but that filter will be there for as long as we need it to be while we come up with a permanent, long-term solution with CERCLA.”
CERCLA stands for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known as Superfund. Riverkeeper’s Shapley has concerns about the remedial measure.
“How much water will this plant be able to treat, because it has to treat the flush of water that comes off 80 something acres of runway at the Air National Guard base. That’s got to be a big system to handle that kind of storm,” says Shapley. “And, two, what standards will it be held to as it’s discharged back into the stream. We want to see no detect, no amount of chemical that can be detected in that discharge after the treatment.”
New York state has 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. DEC wants filtration to meet the state’s recommended MCLs, at a minimum. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory level for PFOA and PFOS is 70 parts per trillion each.