Water contamination crisis in Newburgh

by Leonard Sparks, originally posted on October 25, 2016


CITY OF NEWBURGH — Last week, Newburgh resident Fontas Lamb walked the city’s neighborhoods handing out information on the blood-testing program that starts next week for residents exposed to the contaminate behind the closure of Washington Lake, the city’s primary water supply.

Outreach was one of the themes he addressed when speaking Tuesday at the third public meeting concerning the contamination crisis.

“Everbody’s talking politics and conspiracy theories, while people are really suffering,” Lamb said. “Something needs to be done and we need to get out there and reach the people.”

Eight days have passed since the state announced that blood testing would begin Nov. 1 for City of Newburgh, and Town of New Windsor and Newburgh residents exposed to perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS.

The chemical, whose high levels forced the closure of the lake, is linked with kidney and testicular cancers, low infant birth weight, high cholesterol and other problems.

The state Department of Health has outlined an outreach strategy whose goal is to get as many people as possible tested. But several people who spoke at the meeting, which took place at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, implored DOH to do more.

“We have to go where the people are,” said Jen Benson, education and outreach coordinator for environmental group Riverkeeper. “Hopefully, DOH got a really good sense of what needs to be done to reach all the community.”

Seven dates for blood testing were announced last week, with testing to be hosted by Cornerstone Family Healthcare at two of its locations: 147 Lake St. and 290 Broadway.

Appointments can be made by calling 518-402-7950 or emailing BEOE@health.ny.gov, and DOH officials have committed to adding new testing dates to meet demand.

“This is just the beginning of the process,” said Nathan Graber, director of DOH’s Center for Environmental Health.

Newburgh resident Cynthia Mack already has an appointment, as do her daughter and 2-year-old grandson. Mack once lived at Silver Stream Park, in the Town of New Windsor, when her well and those of neighbors were contaminated in the 1990s with MTBE, a gasoline additive.

Her son was diagnosed with cancer at 18 and died at 19. At the meeting, she showed his picture to Martin Brand, director for DEC’s Region 3.

“It’s like a Stephen King novel,” she said of dealing with another contamination crisis. “It’s just a horror story.”

Among those registering for testing at the meeting were Desmond Bowman and Carrie Price.

Bowman said he was worried about getting cancer and wondered if the contamination was to blame for the regular headaches and body aches he has felt for the last two years. Price, 50, said her 27-year-old son complains of aches and fatigue.

“I’m scared to death,” Price said.

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