NEWBURGH – It has been three years since the chemicals PFOS and PFOA were discovered in the City of Newburgh’s Washington Lake reservoir, leading to officials immediately turning it off.
Since then, the city has been obtaining its water from the New York City Catskill Aqueduct, paid for by the state.
The source of the toxic chemicals is the New York Air National Guard Base at nearby Stewart International Airport and while the Guard is no longer using firefighting foam with those chemicals, they are still in Washington Lake and continue to run through streams in the watershed.
Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, Senator James Skoufis and several environmental organizations rallied in front of the Newburgh water filtration plant on Tuesday call on the state to immediately implement water quality contaminant levels for those two chemicals and others as recommended seven months ago by the state’s Drinking Water Quality Council.
It was also noted that while the Department of Defense finally acknowledged the contamination came from the Guard base, they have done nothing to remediate it and Manna Jo Greene of Clearwater said cleanup work must start immediately.
Even if that is the case, it would take a great many years to do the job, so Jacobson, who has been pushing for a permanent tie-in to the aqueduct, said that should continue with the state paying for it in perpetuity.
“The state owns the (Stewart) property; they had the DEC and they said everything is fine and keep drinking the water, so it’s the state’s responsibility to keep paying, which is part of the lawsuit we brought when I was on the council,” he said. “But, I’m not talking about money; I’m talking about the health of the citizens.”
Mayor Torrance Harvey concurred with Jacobson that Albany should continue to pay for aqueduct water.
Skoufis said “clean and safe drinking water is a fundamental human right and there is much, much more that New York State Government needs to be doing to ensure that right.”
Maureen Cunningham, senior director for Clean Water of Environmental Advocates of New York said it has been three years since the Newburgh water contamination has been discovered. “We shouldn’t been here today because the Cuomo administration has been promising as recently as a month ago to set drinking water standards for PFOS chemicals and 1,4-dioxane, and to set universal testing of these toxic chemicals through an emerging contaminant monitoring list.”
Ophra Wolf of the Newburgh Clean Water Project urged the governor to allow small communities to set contamination levels for the emerging contaminants “as low as possible based on available detection and treatment technologies.”
John Gebhards, executive director of the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, said, “The only way to keep this tragedy from happening again and again across our state, is to require all public water sources to b tested for (those contaminating chemicals.”