By Mark Gerlach
The state Department of Health is rolling out tests to see if the health of City of Newburgh residents has been impacted by high levels of a chemical called Perfluorooctane Sulfonate, or PFOS, in its water supply.
“The NYS Department of Health is working with our federal partners, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to develop a plan for biomonitoring in Newburgh,” a statement from the DOH said. “We are working expeditiously to finalize the details and will be releasing more information in the coming weeks.”
Biomonitoring examines, generally through blood and urine testing, how much toxic chemicals are in the body.
Politicians lauded the announcement.
“From the moment this health crisis was discovered I have continuously called on the New York State Department of Health to become more active in its response, to offer blood testing, and to create a health assessment program for the greater Newburgh community,” state Senator Bill Larkin said. “I applaud the Department of Health for their decision to finally offer blood testing and am hopeful that federal, state, and local officials will continue working together to protect the welfare of those exposed to contaminated water.”
The DOH started conducting a private well survey earlier this month in the vicinity of Stewart Air National Guard Base, the site believed to be the source of the contamination, Larkin’s office said.
“This survey will serve to identify whether or not private wells in this area have PFOS contamination,” Larkin said.
The DOH recommends those using private wells to consider using bottled water for drinking, cooking, and preparing infant formula until their well is tested, according to Larkin’s office. Private wells can be tested for free, his office said. Call 518-402-7880 to see if you’re eligible for free testing.
“My neighbors in Newburgh deserve clean drinking water, and they deserve to know of any health risks they may be facing because of years of unsafe drinking water,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said in a statement. “I’m glad that the (state) DOH has agreed with our call to test folks in Newburgh for contamination – this is a critical step to learning the extent of our exposure and determining the potential health effects of our drinking water.”
The news comes as a public meeting about city water contamination will be held on Sept. 19 at Mount Saint Mary College. The meeting, which will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., is in Aquinas Hall. Environmental Protection Agency and City of Newburgh representatives, as well as other agencies, will take part in the discussion.
The city used Washington Lake as its water supply until a state of emergency was declared in May because of high PFOS levels in the lake, which were elevated beyond anticipated EPA guidelines. The state of emergency was lifted in about 24 hours, after the city switched its water supply to Brown’s Pond, and later to the Catskill aqueduct.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation previously labeled the Stewart Air National Guard Base a Superfund site, meaning that it’s believed to contain pollution and need cleanup. The U.S. Department of Defense was called out by the DEC as a possible source of the contamination.
A contractor was hired by the DEC to decrease Washington Lake’s water level to prevent PFOS from spilling over the lake’s dam and polluting other water bodies in the Quassaick Creek watershed. The extracted water will be treated with portable granular activated carbon treatment units and pumped into Silver Stream.