In May 2016, Newburgh, NY residents learned that for decades their drinking water has been contaminated at unsafe levels twice as high as EPA advisory limits to a toxic chemical known as PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate).
Newburgh locals are mad as hell and want to know when the government is going to fix the problem. “The federal government has a responsibility -- they should accept the fact that they are culpable for what has happened here and they should do the right thing ... We [must] protect and preserve our most important element resource which is our water, it’s an inalienable right and we have a responsibility to ensure that our citizens are drinking clean water," said Assemblyman Frank Skartados.
Newburgh’s drinking water contamination was caused from the discharge of toxic chemicals located nearby at the Stewart Air National Guard Air Base. Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney recently announced that the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency under the Department of Defense will install a $2.4 million system to filter the discharges from the Stewart Air National Guard Base that are laced with toxic PFAS chemicals that have contaminated the local water supply.
The pollution flowing off the base is no longer directly contaminating Newburgh’s water supply, but that doesn’t mean that the water is safe to drink. Washington Lake, which until May 2016 had been Newburgh’s primary drinking water supply. For now Newburgh residents get their water from the Catskill Aqueduct, and water from Browns Pond, another Newburgh reservoir.
Contaminated water from the Stewart Air Base base is still flowing into nearby Moodna Creek and then into our Hudson River. Environmental advocates are concerned that not enough is being done to abate the persistent threat of PFOS to our waterways.
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The current federal federal health advisory levels for PFOS or PFOA chemicals in drinking water are outdated. Currently unsafe levels are set at 70 parts per trillion ppt. The New York State Drinking Water Quality Council has recommended limits of 10 ppt for PFOS and PFOA chemicals.
Community members in Newburgh are understandably concerned and are well aware of the risk that these chemicals poise. Some residents have expressed frustration and anger that more has not been done to remediate the problem. Many are taking steps to establish a drinking water Restoration Advisory Board.
Assistant Secretary of the Air Force John Henderson seemed apologetic, iterating several times how the DoD is taking ownership of its mistakes and working hard to investigate and clean up the contaminated site.
“Americans have a right to know how much, if any, of this chemical is in their drinking water," Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Hudson Valley, also echoed Delgado’s sentiments, “We can’t let the EPA get away with turning their backs on us and refusing to regulate chemicals we know are dangerous."
Take action today to support water quality monitoring in your community by contacting your local government officials and ask them to support water monitoring legislation in your community.
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