Blogs > Water Quality > NYS to U.S. Military: Plan for cleaning up Stewart Air National Guard Base duplicative, deficient, inadequate and arbitrary

NYS to U.S. Military: Plan for cleaning up Stewart Air National Guard Base duplicative, deficient, inadequate and arbitrary

It’s been a year since the City of Newburgh declared a state of emergency in response to PFOS contamination in Lake Washington, the primary source of drinking water for the City’s 29,000 residents. Progress has been made on some fronts, thanks to the tireless efforts of the people of Newburgh, community organizers, clean water advocates, agency staff, and elected officials. The Department of Health is providing free blood tests to Newburgh-area residents; the City is drawing clean, safe drinking water from the Catskill Aqueduct; and the Department of Environmental Conservation is constructing a carbon filtration system that should remove PFOS from the City’s drinking water when it switches back to Lake Washington.

Despite these encouraging developments, the cleanup of the Stewart Air National Guard Base, the largest source of the PFOS contamination, has stalled. By May 2016, the Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) had identified Stewart Air National Guard Base as the major source of contamination to the city’s reservoir. In August 2016, the DEC declared the Base a state Superfund site. Six months later, in February 2017, the Air National Guard – a branch of the Department of Defense – submitted a draft work plan to clean up the site. DEC, which has spent considerable time and effort investigating the extent of the PFOS contamination at the Base, responded a month ago with a blunt critique. DEC characterized the plan as duplicative, deficient, inadequate, and arbitrary, specifically stating that:

  • In its current form, the plan “largely duplicates previous investigation efforts without yielding any new relevant information over what is already known.”
  • The plan is “deficient” by EPA standards for conducting site investigations. It fails to “adequately identify and provide for the sampling of migration pathways and target receptors identified in the guidance, and arbitrarily limits the scope of the investigation….”
  • The Air National Guard’s decision to exclude Recreation Pond (which receives polluted discharges from the Base) from the scope of the investigation “is unjustified and non-compliant with the EPA Guidance.”

DEC also made it clear that the Air National Guard must develop interim remedial measures to stop the flow of PFOS from the Base. We agree, as do many of Newburgh’s elected officials. Riverkeeper first called for the Air National Guard Base to cease and desist all PFOS discharges in May 2016. Until those remedial measures are in place, PFOS from the Base that discharges to Recreation Pond will continue to pollute other waterways, beginning with Silver Stream.

For now, Silver Stream has been diverted from Lake Washington. Instead of going to the reservoir, the contamination coming off of the Base is polluting the watershed of the Moodna Creek, a tributary of the Hudson River. Once the permanent carbon filtration plant is operational, and the City returns to Lake Washington, Silver Stream will be diverted back to fill the reservoir, as it has for a century. Pollution from the base must be stopped immediately – and certainly before that connection to the City’s primary reservoir is restored.

It’s time for the Air National Guard to face the facts and take responsibility for cleaning up its mess. DEC has asked for a supplemental work plan later this month. The Air National Guard should take that opportunity acknowledge the work that has already been done, immediately develop the interim remedial measures necessary to stop the ongoing contamination, and move forward with a comprehensive remedial investigation.

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