State Rolling out Contamination Testing for City Residents

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Filter tanks were installed at Washington Lake recently to treat contaminated water, and redirect the clean water into Silver Stream. The process is being done to lower the lake’s water level, so other bodies of water aren’t contaminated. (photo by Bob Root)

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.

DEC: Air National Guard Base A Superfund Site

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Sen. Chuck Schumer toured Washington Lake on Aug. 9 and announced legislation that would require the Air Force to conduct tests regarding groundwater contamination that polluted the lake, which was the city’s water source. The pollution is believed to have come from the Stewart Air National Guard Base. If the Air Force is responsible, his legislation would require it pay for the cleanup. Schumer is seen here with County Executive Steve Neuhaus and City Manager Michael Ciaravino. (photo by Bob Root)

By Mark Gerlach

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has identified the Stewart Air National Guard Base as a Superfund site, an area suspected of pollution and requiring remediation.

The DEC pointed a finger at the U.S. Department of Defense for potentially causing the chemical perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS, to contaminate Washington Lake, the City of Newburgh’s public drinking supply, an announcement from the DEC said. The Department of Defense oversees the Stewart Air National Guard Base.

It has been suspected that the Air National Guard Base is the source of the contamination. Last week Sen. Chuck Schumer toured the lake, and urged accountability for the pollution.

Preliminary DEC tests have classified parts of the Stewart Air National Guard Base as a “significant source of the PFOS contamination” discovered in the lake, the DEC announcement said. Some of the highest concentrations of PFOS were detected in an outfall from the Air National Guard Base that drains into Silver Stream, a Washington Lake tributary. Groundwater samples taken from monitoring wells, as well as surface water samples from a retention pond on the base, also detected high PFOS levels.

The pollution is believed to have come from a foam used at the base to fight fires during emergencies and training exercises.

To read the full article see the Friday, Aug. 19 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post. 

Schumer Tours Washington Lake, Urges Accountability For Pollution

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Sen. Chuck Schumer toured Washington Lake on Aug. 9 and announced legislation that would require the Air Force to conduct tests regarding groundwater contamination that polluted the lake, which was the city’s water source. The pollution is believed to have come from the Stewart Air National Guard Base. If the Air Force is responsible, his legislation would require it pay for the cleanup. Schumer is seen here with County Executive Steve Neuhaus and City Manager Michael Ciaravino. (photo by Bob Root)

By Laura Giner Bair

City and county elected officials greeted Sen. Chuck Schumer on Aug. 9 at Masterson Park, as Schumer toured Washington Lake in response to high levels of contamination detected in the city’s water supply.

Schumer plans to hold the Stewart Air National Guard base accountable for the contamination, which is believed to be the source of the pollution known as perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS. New legislation proposed by Schumer would require “the Air Force to do right by the people of the City of Newburgh,” he said.

The Air National Guard is believed to have used foam retardants during drills at the Stewart Air National Guard Base, which some have pinpointed as the cause of PFOS seeping into the water system.

Schumer’s legislation would require the Air Force to “conduct tests… and if found culpable… pay for clean up,” he said. If the Air Force is found culpable, it will need to “release an expedited timeline detailing the immediate steps that will be taken to mitigate the contamination and ensure the critical water supplies residents rely upon are no longer impacted,” Schumer said.

Wayne Vradenburgh, the city’s deputy superintendent of water, said: “Our main concern is public health. State, county, and city staff are working as a team to solve this problem. Politics doesn’t have a role in how we are working together.”

In addition to health concerns resulting from residents consuming the contaminated water, many of whom are calling for free blood testing, the city faces a financial burden for switching to New York City’s Catskill Aqueduct for clean water, as well as for developing a new water filtration system.

To read the full article see the Friday, Aug. 12 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post. 

Contamination Temporarily Closes Beaver Dam Lake Beach

By Mark Gerlach

Storm water runoff from excessive rain on the weekend of July 30 caused approximately 12,000 gallons of sewage to seep into Beaver Dam Lake. The beach was temporarily closed because of the contamination.

The beach reopened on Aug. 4, after being shut down for about three days. Water samples taken by the Orange County Department of Health on Aug. 2 were tested in a lab, and the results stated bacteria levels are “well below the maximum levels” permitted by state regulations for freshwater bathing beaches, according to an email from Lawrence Rossini, chairman of the Beaver Dam Lake District Board.

The lake district closed the beach on Aug. 1 after the sewage spill, which is believed to have come from the Town of New Windsor’s sewer system. The overflow seeped into the lake on July 31, Rossini said. The Orange County Department of Health was subsequently notified.

“It was reported that there was an overflow of the town’s sewer system into Beaver Dam Lake due to extensive rain over the weekend… a manhole cover was apparently overflowing and running into the lake,” Tim Gaeta, principal public health sanitarian in the county’s health department, said. “The Beaver Dam Lake District was proactive and closed the beach on their own on Monday.”

The lake isn’t regulated by the county health department. However, the health department issues a permit for the beach. Unrelated to the contamination, the beach was also closed on Aug. 3 because the lake was treated with algaecide.

The sewage reportedly emanated from a manhole near a home on Lakeside Drive. Town representatives investigated the discharge, and reported that the spill had stopped, according to Rossini. The spill is estimated to have flowed at a rate of 50 gallons per minute for four hours, totaling about 12,000 gallons.

The area received about 7 inches of rain in about 36 hours and was hit with “so much water the sewer pipes couldn’t take it all,” New Windsor Supervisor George Green said.

To read the full article see the Friday, Aug. 5 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post. 

Beaver Dam Lake Water Corp. Comment Period Extended

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More than 100 Beaver Dam Lake residents packed into the Salisbury Mills Fire Company on Route 94 to express consternation over Beaver Dam Lake Water Corp. selling its assets to New York American Water, pending approval by the state Public Service Commission. What was supposed to be an informational meeting left many residents with unanswered questions. (photo by Mark Gerlach)

The public comment period for the sale of the Beaver Dam Lake Water Corp. to New York American Water has been extended until Sept. 8.

The news comes after requests were made by Assemblyman James Skoufis and the Town of Cornwall, according to a notice from Kathleen Burgess, state Public Service Commission secretary. The comment period was initial slated to end in late June.

Residents can submit their comments by visiting http://www.dps.ny.gov. Click “search,” enter the case number (16-W-0284), and then click “post comments” at the top of the page.

Comments can also be emailed and sent via mail. Emails can be sent to Kathleen Burgess, Public Service Commission secretary, at secretary@dps.ny.gov or mailed to: Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, N.Y. 12223-1350.  

Skoufis sent a letter to the commission regarding the sale on June 23, in which he addressed a number of concerns by residents pertaining to the sale.

Whether residents will retain access rights to use Beaver Dam Lake after a potential sale is unknown, Skoufis said. “Since 1931, per official meeting minutes, these reserves, while deeded to the Water Corporation, were always intended to remain community access points to the lake,” Skoufis said. “If the sale to New York American Water is approved, this non-local company may construct wells and structures on these access points.”

“There is also a legitimate concern among residents of the Beaver Dam Lake community not serviced by the water corporation that, should New York American Water look to expand, these residents will be forced to hookup into the system; these residents presently receive water from private wells,” Skoufis wrote in the letter.

“I do not conceptually oppose the sale of the water corporation’s assets to New York American Water provided that the above concerns are addressed,” Skoufis said.

 

City’s Water Woes Continue… Residents Express Concerns

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A forum was held at Mount Saint Mary College on June 20 to update city residents about the status of contamination in Newburgh’s water. (photo by Laura Giner Bair)

By Laura Giner Bair

Many questions still surround the status of the City of Newburgh’s water dilemma after a June 20 forum.

City Manager Michael Ciaravino declared a state of emergency on May 2 after unsafe levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate were found in Silver Stream and Washington Lake, the city’s drinking water supply. City officials took steps to switch to Brown’s Pond, and the state of emergency was lifted the following day.

Monday night’s forum, held at Mount Saint Mary College, was attended by Ciaravino, Mayor Judy Kennedy, and representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the state Department of Health (DOH), and the state  Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Despite the meeting, residents’ fears and concerns continue to linger. Overwhelmingly, the approximately 130-person audience expressed gratitude that Ciaravino declared the state of emergency, and shined a spotlight on the city’s water crisis.

Judith Enck, EPA regional representative, commended Ciaravino for protecting residents from drinking contaminated water. Enck outlined an EPA plan to fix the water problem, provide clean water to city residents, find the contamination source, and rectify the problem.

Newburgh was able to switch its water source to Brown’s Pond on May 2, and to the Catskill Aqueduct on June 7, according to Martin Brand, DEC regional director. A filtration system to eliminate PFOS is expected to be installed by Oct. 2017, Brand said.

Contaminants are now “virtually non-detectable, (at) just two parts per trillion,” Nathan Graber, director of the DOH’s Center for Environmental Health, said. Blood testing for residents to detect if the water contamination impacted their health is also “under discussion,” Graber said.

For the complete story see the Friday, June 24 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post.

New Windsor Fills City Pool

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City of Newburgh and New Windsor firefighters helped fill the city’s pool with water donated by the Town of New Windsor Wednesday night. (photo by Jack Babcock)

The Town of New Windsor donated approximately 157,000 gallons of water to fill the City of Newburgh’s pool just in time for summer, which began on June 20.

Firefighters from the New Windsor and City of Newburgh fire departments helped fill the pool on Wednesday evening. The firefighters used a hose that stretched more than 3,000 feet from John Street in New Windsor to the pool in Newburgh to fill it. The city’s Aquatic Center is located at the corner of Washington Street and Robinson Avenue.

“It was an important thing to do for the kids of the city,” New Windsor Supervisor George Green said. “Can you imagine those kids going all summer without a pool? They have that beautiful facility. They should be able to utilize it.”

“If it prevents one crime it’s paid for,” Green said. “That’s what neighbors are for.”

The volunteer firefighters from the New Windsor Fire Department, led by Chief Al Padilla, did a “wonderful job” filling the pool, Green said. “They should be commended.”

Various statistics have pointed toward a spike in city crime levels during hot, humid summer months. The pool has been viewed as a tool that helps curb that trend. Hundreds of children are estimated to use the pool daily.

Beaver Dam Residents Express Worry And Outrage

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More than 100 Beaver Dam Lake residents packed into the Salisbury Mills Fire Company on Route 94 Monday night to express consternation over Beaver Dam Lake Water Corp. selling its assets to New York American Water, pending approval by the state Public Service Commission. What was supposed to be an informational meeting left many residents with unanswered questions. (photo by Mark Gerlach)

Sale Of Beaver Dam Lake Water Corp. Leaves Unanswered Questions

By Mark Gerlach

The Beaver Dam Lake Water Corp. is tanking. The private company, which supplies water to about 154 Beaver Dam Lake residents, has a large loan looming over its head and its infrastructure needs repairs.

New York American Water signed an agreement in May to buy the sinking company and its assets for $10,000, and acquire its debt.

Beaver Dam Lake Water Corp. owes approximately $2,020,503 on a 30-year, zero percent interest loan, which it used to help comply with regulations stemming from the Safe Drinking Water Act, John Kolp, the company’s president, said. The company’s physical assets are worth about $2,093,222.

After deducting its outstanding loan balance and a net operating loss of $67,689 (which cannot be transferred per tax regulations), the company’s net assets are about $72,719, Kolp said. Its land can only be used for water utility purposes and has “no ascertainable ‘open market value,'” he said.

Beaver Dam Lake area residents, many leery of the deal, filtered into the Salisbury Mills Fire Company’s firehouse on Route 94 Monday evening for an informational meeting about the sale. Some residents using well water are skeptical that they’ll be pressured to abandon their wells in an effort for New York American Water to boost its customer base, or that they’ll be forced to connect if increased water usage dries out their aquifers.

“We’re not going to force you to hook up,” Christopher Buday, vice president of operations at New York American Water, said at the meeting. New York American Water has about 125,000 customers. “Expansion isn’t even on our table at this point.”

Others residents were concerned the company would bottle water and ship it elsewhere. “We’re not in the business of bottling water,” Buday said. “We cannot do anything without a permit… putting a pipeline wherever the company wants is not even close to reality.”

For the complete story see the Friday, June 10 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post.

EPA Issues Contaminant Guideline Changes

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City of Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy speaking to the press after a state of emergency was rescinded regarding a contaminant discovered in the city’s drinking water. (photo by Mark Gerlach)

By Mark Gerlach

The Environmental Protection Agency recently scaled back its allowable level of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) to 70 parts per trillion, down from about 200 parts per trillion.

The contaminant was detected in the City of Newburgh’s water supply earlier this month, which sparked City Manager Michael Ciaravino to declare a state of emergency. The state of emergency was called off a day later.

At that time the city wasn’t in violation of the EPA’s guidelines, which were last updated circa 2009. The PFOS level detected in the city’s drinking water was about 148 to 155 parts per trillion. Ciaravino called the state of emergency because the EPA was likely to drop the recommended level of PFOS it deemed safe in drinking water.

The city’s main water supply, Washington Lake, is now more than double the allowable 70 parts per trillion PFOS limit, according to the new EPA guideline, which also recommends that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) be limited to 70 parts per trillion in drinking water.

Newburgh’s drinking water source was switched to Brown’s Pond earlier this month. May 4 samples from Brown’s Pond show PFOS levels of between 2.5 and 8.4 parts per trillion.

For the complete story see the Friday, May 20 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post.

City Navigates Through Murky Water

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Nearly 100 people attended a Newburgh City Council meeting on May 9 to hear and express concerns regarding the city’s water supply. See story inside. (photo by Laura Giner Bair)

By Laura Giner Bair

The safety of the City of Newburgh’s drinking water was the most pressing issue at a May 9 city council meeting. A state of emergency was declared last week pertaining to a contaminate in the city’s water supply. The declaration was rescinded one day later.

The decision to draw city water from Brown’s Pond rather than Lake Washington was commended by several residents who expressed concern about possible health implications for themselves and their children.

“Oil and gas we all think are important, but they are luxuries,” city resident Stuart Sachs said. “But water is not a luxury. It is absolutely required for human life.”

The state of emergency was declared “to preserve the public’s safety,” City Manager Michael Ciaravino said. A manmade chemical, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), was discovered in city water at a level under the current limit allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the EPA is reportedly considering a change to allowable levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate in municipal water.

In rescinding the state of emergency, Ciaravino released a press release stating: “The State of Emergency was declared due to the discovery of perfluorooctane sulfonate in Silver Stream and Washington Lake, posing a threat to public health and safety. However, with extraordinary efficiency and hard work, our water department, engineering staff and department of public works staff have successfully started up the pump station at Brown’s Pond, opened the tap to the Catskill Aqueduct and turned off our supply from Washington Lake. I now believe that our water is safe to drink while we work on the longer term issue of finding a permanent solution to the problem.”

For the complete story see the Friday, May 13 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post.