Stewart Guard Base “strongly looked at” as source of Newburgh water contamination

originally posted on June 21, 2016


NEWBURGH – The auditorium at Aquinas Hall at Mount Saint Mary College was filled with concerned Newburgh residents on Monday evening as they listened to city, state and federal officials from the departments of environmental protection, conservation and health, as well as from the non-profit group Riverkeeper, inform them of the discovery of Perfluorooctane Sulfonate, better known by its acronym “PFOS,” in the city’s water supply and what is being done about the problem.

State Assemblyman Frank Skartados termed the meeting productive.

“This is an environmental and public health crisis screaming out for help,” said Assemblyman Frank Skartados, whose district includes Newburgh. “I’m very glad that we were able to bring all this talent together to address the issue in such a short period of time. Every level of government, from the state to the local to the federal, has come together to address this issue as quickly as possible. So, I’m very grateful for that.”

“Right now, and since we’ve switched over to Brown’s Pond there is no PFOS in the water,” said Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy. “And because PFOS is a water-soluble substance, it washes through. Probably out of the system within a couple of days, since you’re washing millions of gallons of water through that system. So, right now the water is perfectly safe to drink from a PFOS perspective.”

“The City of Newburgh was proactive once they learned about a potential problem of a particularly serious contaminant PFOS that was found in Newburgh’s drinking water,” said Judith Enck, regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “So, the good news is that there is no PFOS in Newburgh’s drinking water today because they’ve been switched over to a different water source.”

In discussing the potential source of the contamination, which needs to be identified and remediated, Regional State Environmental Conservation Director Martin Brand said they are “strongly looking at the National Guard Base and the commercial side of Stewart Airport as potential sources for the PFOS contamination.” But Brand said they were also “looking at other areas in the tributaries to Lake Washington.”

Firefighting foam manufactured in the 1990s was found to contain PFOS in the early 2000s, and soon after, its manufacture was stopped. The foam of today is free of PFOS, although there is a concern about stored stockpiles of the old foam. Newburgh Fire Captain Paul Pullar said that foam is rarely used to put out fires, and typically only for larger hydrocarbon fires, such as those involving gasoline or aviation fuel. He gave the example that in his 16 years as a firefighter, he only saw foam used once.

The three-hour meeting, organized by the City of Newburgh, gave the audience an opportunity to also ask questions of the expert panel, in addition to making public comments, which ranged from detecting PFOS exposure levels through blood tests to better informing the public of the water situation, including giving notice to when public meetings occur.

When asked if she was concerned about her drinking water, Newburgh resident Trish Dockstader said she is. “I’ve been a resident of the city for almost 70 years and I do drink the water. I always drank water right from the faucet and I do have health concerns.”

In May, state officials detected high levels of PFOS in Washington Lake, the city’s main water supply. Newburgh has since switched over to a back-up water source, which first included Brown’s Pond, and when that ran low, the city tapped into the Catskill Aqueduct. Although only a temporary measure, state officials, in conjunction with their city and federal partners are working on finding a more permanent solution, including a filtration system, which the state has committed to fund. In the meantime, a water quality hotline, 1-800-801-8092, has been set up to answer questions from city residents.

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