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Request blood testing
People who drank the water in Newburgh were exposed to a toxic chemical. Testing blood is an essential step to determine levels of exposure. If you want your blood tested, call the Department of Health to request blood testing for you and your family at (518) 402-7950, or email email@example.com.
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Join Riverkeeper’s and Independence for Newburgh’s joint outreach efforts to educate the Newburgh community about this issue and to invite them to the next meeting. Download, print and post:
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To volunteer, please e-mail Jen Benson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The City of Newburgh is facing a drinking water crisis after the toxic chemical PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) was found to have contaminated its primary reservoir, Lake Washington, prompting the city manager to declare a state of emergency in May 2016. New York State has since declared the Stewart Air National Guard Base, as one major source of the contamination, a state Superfund site. While the emergency declaration has been lifted as alternate sources of water have been provided to ensure tap water is running free of PFOS in the short term, the city faces long-term challenges of removing the sources of contamination, cleansing its reservoir, providing appropriate medical attention to the 29,000 residents exposed to the water, and reversing the long-standing degradation of water quality in the streams, wetlands and open spaces that naturally filter and feed its reservoirs.
Riverkeeper’s involvement in Newburgh dates to landmark cases to stop pollution of the Quassaick Creek, chronicled in The Riverkeepers, and more recent work related to water quality monitoring and advocacy to reduce sewage leaks and overflows. Our community monitoring project with the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, a local citizens group devoted to education and research, prompted us to scrutinize the Air National Guard Base permit in 2015, and identify significant deficiencies directly relevant to the eventual Superfund designation of the site. In July 2016, we published an influential Case Study and Call for Comprehensive Source Water Protection.
Riverkeeper’s advocacy, in collaboration with local partners, is twofold: Protect the people, and protect the water.
To protect the people, the most immediate need is to advocate for the state and federal governments to offer free blood testing for PFOS to all those exposed, as part of a comprehensive long-term medical screening program.
To protect the water, we have argued for both aggressive investigation, cleanup and interim remedial action to eliminate the sources of contamination – and for long-term watershed restoration to prevent the next crisis.
Read Riverkeeper’s influential July 2016 report, Contamination in the Drinking Water Reservoir and Watershed of the City of Newburgh: A Case Study and Call for Comprehensive Source Water Protection.
City of Newburgh residents deserve comprehensive long-term medical screening. The first essential step in providing that is to provide free blood screening to determine exposure levels – as step that has been taken in other New York communities affected by contamination of drinking water with similar perfluorinated compounds.
Elements of a comprehensive health response should include:
We are calling for this for several reasons:
For more information, including information for clinicians, visit this Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) page.
During joint legislative hearings on water quality Sept. 7, New York State committed to improve the Source Water Assessment for Newburgh, a key step, if done well, in preventing future crises.
Newburgh’s drinking water is facing an acute crisis with the discovery of PFOS in the city’s primary reservoir. But its drinking water quality has been put at grave risk, thanks to a slow-moving crisis of over-development and lack of coordinated implementation of source water protection rules, highlighted in Riverkeeper’s report, Contamination in the Drinking Water Reservoir and Watershed of the City of Newburgh: A Case Study and Call for Comprehensive Source Water Protection.
In 1996, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act, directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess the vulnerabilities to public drinking water supplies. In New York State, the Department of Health implemented this program, and in Newburgh, failed to accurately map the city’s water supply – omitting the city’s 100-year-old primary reservoir, its watershed, and threats like the Air National Guard Base and Stewart International Airport pollution discharges, urban stormwater runoff, transportation infrastructure and landfills with history of toxic waste disposal. The Department of Environmental Conservation also has not properly implemented key programs required under the Clean Water Act and Environmental Conservation Law to properly classify and protect streams and wetlands. And other existing state and federal laws have not been implemented or coordinated adequately to protect Newburgh’s drinking water, as evidenced by the current crisis.
While the emergency response (Superfund investigation and cleanup) is ongoing, Riverkeeper is calling for a parallel process to address long-term watershed restoration and protection needs to ensure that Newburgh’s water crisis is not repeated.
A new Source Water Assessment that is comprehensive, coordinated among agencies and levels of government, and inclusive of issues identified by Riverkeeper, is the first step toward upsetting a dangerous status quo.
This advocacy is relevant to communities statewide.
Riverkeeper is acting as a watchdog on the remedial response to the contamination underlying the Air National Guard Base and Stewart International Airport, which is reaching Lake Washington, Newburgh’s primary reservoir, via stormwater discharges and possibly other routes.
Chief among our current concerns is the need for an interim remedial measure to filter the water flowing from Recreation Pond, which is situated on the Air National Guard Base and receives discharges of polluted stormwater from several outfalls, including one where state tests have measured PFOS at more than 80 times the EPA guidance level for longterm exposure via drinking water (5,900 vs. 70 ppt). After discharge from this pond, water flows less than 1.4 miles before reaching Newburgh’s primary drinking water supply.
Officials Call for Drastic Action Amid ‘Water Quality Crisis’ in Newburgh, NBC New York, January 2017
Hoosick Falls not only NY community facing crisis, WNYC, August 2016
Riverkeeper calls for blood testing, watershed restoration in Newburgh, Time Warner Cable, August 2016
Newburgh-area development decisions can boost risks for drinking water safety, Times-Herald Record, June 2016
Newburgh PFOS Forum Draws Calls For Blood Testing, WAMC, June 2016
Newburgh’s water issues are not confined to PFOS in the drinking water supply.
EPA-ordered testing identified several other so-called “emerging contaminants” in Newburgh’s drinking water supply at the same time PFOS was identified. Riverkeeper has asked EPA to provide information about the health effects, potential sources and treatment technologies available for these chemicals.
Harmful algal blooms have been documented at Brown’s Pond, Newburgh’s backup reservoir, in 2013 and 2015. This cyanobacteria can produce toxins that could enter the water supply if not managed properly, and the algal bloom could be a symptom of issues in the watershed requiring interventions, such as limits to the use of lawn fertilizers, or green infrastructure to reduce stormwater inputs.
Development in the watershed that supplies Newburgh’s reservoirs with water has put water quality at risk of degradation. Riverkeeper is advocating for a long-term restoration plan (see “The Larger Context”).
Lead has also been found at elevated levels, likely due to old pipes throughout the city, a chronic problem in many older cities. Lead has also found at elevated levels in city soils. (Riverkeeper is not working directly on this issue.)
Newburgh is also dealing with its aging sewer system, and is implementing a plan to reduce combined sewage overflows into the Hudson River and Quassaick Creek by nearly 100 million gallons over 15 years. It is also working to identify illicit connections between its sewers and storm drains, which have resulted in direct discharges of sewage to the Hudson River, in the case of one neighborhood, for decades. Riverkeeper continues to advocate for these actions.
Independence for Newburgh, acommunity group of concerned citizens interested in sharing and protecting their diverse city, has taken on the drinking water crisis among its advocacy issues.
Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, a citizens group devoted to education and research, is an invaluable resource for understanding the watershed that supplies Newburgh’s drinking water.
PFOS contamination is known to have contaminated Washington Lake, part of the Quassaick Creek Watershed. There are interconnections between the Moodna and Quassaick Creek watersheds as part of Newburgh’s drinking water system, and both watersheds may be contaminated with PFOS. The degree to which fish and other wildlife are affected, or levels in fish tissue may pose a risk to anglers, is as of yet unknown.