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State must offer blood tests to all exposed to toxic drinking water in Newburgh

Image courtesy Independence for Newburgh

Image courtesy Independence for Newburgh

In a letter sent today to Commissioner Howard Zucker, Riverkeeper called for the Department of Health to offer blood testing to all people exposed to toxic chemicals in Newburgh’s drinking water. The letter reinforces the clear call from community members and elected leaders for blood testing that serves all affected by this contamination.

In joint legislative hearings on Long Island Monday, Sept. 12, Zucker, responding to intense questioning, committed to performing a biomonitoring program in Newburgh in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Riverkeeper, working closely with residents in Newburgh, wants to ensure that biomonitoring is universally available:

“Biomonitoring is an important step in understanding the health implications of the water contamination crisis in Newburgh. Any biomonitoring program must include making free blood testing available to all Newburgh citizens. The residents of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh were exposed to a similar toxic chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and the Department has since made blood testing available in those communities. The residents of Newburgh deserve no less,” John Parker, Riverkeeper’s director of legal programs writes.

Newburgh residents have been exposed to perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in their drinking water for years, likely decades. The duration of exposure to the contamination or the health impacts that victims are enduring is unknown for the 29,000 residents that have been exposed. PFOS is a toxic chemical linked to several negative health conditions, including cancer; effects on the liver and immune system; and developmental, reproductive, and neurological effects.

Elements of a comprehensive health response should include:

  • Blood testing, widely available to all and carefully implemented to serve Newburgh, where multiple languages are spoken, many lack primary care physicians or health care insurance and other challenges are present.
  • Assemble an independent panel of experts to develop guidelines for a medical monitoring program, using the C-8 Medical Monitoring Program as a guiding framework.
  • Make the medical monitoring program open to all those exposed to PFOS through drinking water.

Taking this approach would not only benefit the City of Newburgh, but also communities across the State facing similar crises, including those in Suffolk County, Long Island, where another Air National Guard Base has just been declared a state Superfund site.

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