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Advocates call for expedited PFAS cleanup, including repair and upgrade of filter, at Stewart Air National Guard Base

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At current pace, full remediation may not begin for a decade or more

High-profile Recreation Pond filter failed after one month, allowing toxic firefighting foam pollution to continue unabated

Riverkeeper and Newburgh Clean Water Project today called on the Air National Guard to commit to an aggressive schedule to clean up PFAS pollution at the Stewart Air National Guard Base, as a new agreement is negotiated with New York State that will influence the next two years of remediation. The current two-year agreement expires this month. The groups are making three demands:

  • The filter at Recreation Pond must be repaired. After being installed in December 2019— three-and-a-half years after advocates, and elected officials at every level of government called for it — the filter failed within one month. It has not been in operation since January 2020, allowing PFAS pollution to flow unabated into Silver Stream, which flows into Moodna Creek, a Hudson River tributary. New York State advises against eating fish from Silver Stream and parts of Moodna Creek because of the toxic contamination.
  • The capacity of the filter at Recreation Pond must be increased. While stormwater carries PFAS pollution from the base to Recreation Pond, the filter is only big enough to treat water in dry weather. When operational, the filter was bypassed even during small rainfall events. The filter must be expanded, or stormwater flows reduced, to allow for effective treatment of contaminated stormwater.
  • The remediation process at the Stewart Air National Guard base must advance quickly through the next phase. While critical, the filter at Recreation Pond is an “interim” measure that is meant to take action while a comprehensive cleanup is planned and implemented. To that end, the Air National Guard is completing a protracted “site investigation,” which the Department of Environmental Conservation criticized in March 2017 for being “duplicative, deficient, inadequate and arbitrary,” and which an Air National Guard contractor acknowledged in April 2020 has produced “no epiphanies — no new discoveries.” The next phase is the Remedial Investigation, and the Air National Guard must commit to an aggressive timeline, including a comprehensive assessment of polluted groundwater, so that the subsequent Feasibility Study will identify remediation options that will eliminate the toxic threat to people and the environment.

At the current pace, a comprehensive cleanup might not even begin for a decade or more. The City of Newburgh’s tap water currently comes from New York City’s Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains. Any eventual use of Washington Lake, long Newburgh’s primary drinking water supply, is contingent on effective PFAS remediation at Stewart Air National Guard Base.

Dan Shapley, Water Quality Program Director for Riverkeeper, said: “The Air National Guard has a responsibility to the people of Newburgh and New Windsor to turn this failed cleanup around, and quickly and thoroughly remove this toxic threat from our water. More than four years ago, this contamination came to light. Stewart Air National Guard Base was identified then as the source. The pollution is still flowing downstream.”

Marcel Barrick, for Newburgh Clean Water Project, said: “‘Of the many things we have been promised over the years by the Air National Guard, the most promising step was an interim filter at Rec. Pond. The hasty outcome of that promise was a filter that was undersized and stopped working a few weeks after installation. The filter needs to be upgraded and functional to protect residents in the City of Newburgh, the Town of Newburgh and the Town of New Windsor. The promises of the ANG need to be replaced with effective action for stakeholders, something that they are required to do under Department of Defense Instruction 4715.07, which requires the Department of Defense to ‘tak[e] proactive steps to identify and address stakeholder concerns.’ As a stakeholder representative who drinks the water, I can clearly say that we want action now and through the entire remediation process to protect public health, and the environment, not delays and promises. We have waited too long, we won’t accept anything else.”

NOTE TO EDITORS: On June 30 at 6 p.m., Hudson Riverkeeper Paul Gallay will host a conversation and Q&A with Ophra Wolf, a member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project, and Rob Bilott, the attorney the New York Times called “DuPont’s worst nightmare,” on the topic of PFAS contamination. For information and registration information, click here.

Background
PFAS, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were used in firefighting foams that were used and spilled at the Air National Guard Base. Exposure to PFOA and PFOS, the most intensely studied of these synthetic “forever chemicals” contributes to significant health concerns, including cancer, thyroid disease and lowered immune response. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month highlighted the concern that past PFAS exposure could make people more susceptible to COVID-19.

PFAS from the Air National Guard Base contaminated Washington Lake, which had been the primary source of drinking water for Newburgh since 1853. Since May 2016, the city of 29,000 people has relied instead on the New York City drinking water supply, and Newburgh’s backup reservoir, Browns Pond. PFAS contamination has also contaminated two Town of New Windsor public drinking water groundwater supplies, serving 27,700 people, as well as numerous private wells. The state has installed filters to remove contaminants from these supplies. Fish in Silver Stream and Moodna Creek are also contaminated.

New York State has declared the Stewart Air National Guard Base a state Superfund site. The remediation of the site is being governed by two-year agreements between the Department of Environmental Conservation and military agencies.

About the remediation timeline
Based on the Air National Guard’s (ANG) estimates for how long each phase of the remediation may take, and its current pace, it is reasonable to anticipate that it could be a decade or more before a comprehensive cleanup (remedial action) begins. A Remedial Action, once begun, would likely continue for years or decades. Advocates believe the low end of these estimates should be the targets. Work to date has taken longer than the high-end estimate.

PhaseWhat HappensEstimated Time FramePotential Start of PhasePotential End of Phase
Site InspectionIdentify sources and pathways of pollution1-3 years
(estimated);

3.5+ years (actual)
Late 2016 (actual)Late 2020
(anticipated)
Remedial Investigation/ Feasibility StudyDetailed study of pollution, and potential remedies3-6 years 20212023-2026
Remedial Design/ Remedial ActionDesign and implementation of remedy2-4 years2024-20272025-2030

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