News > News > Safeguard Drinking Water > Commissioner of Health Zucker announces biomonitoring for Newburgh residents

Commissioner of Health Zucker announces biomonitoring for Newburgh residents

For immediate release: September 13, 2016

Cliff Weathers, Communications Director, Riverkeeper
914-478-4501, ext. 239; [email protected]

Statements from Riverkeeper and 1199SEIU

Update to our early afternoon press release on this subject: Riverkeeper calls on Department of Health to perform comprehensive blood testing in Newburgh, open to all residents. While the state’s acknowledgement that biomonitoring will take place is welcome, we must ensure that the response to Newburgh is no less robust than in Hoosick Falls. A quote, below, by Riverkeeper’s Dan Shapley has also been updated, with the updated text highlighted.

Albany, NY — Howard Zucker, New York State Commissioner of Health, said in testimony on Monday that City of Newburgh residents will be screened for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) exposure through a biomonitoring program. Zucker said at a joint state legislative hearing on water quality initiatives that some form of testing would occur soon and he has contacted the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention regarding the best procedures needed to conduct the testing.

PFOS, a toxic chemical, has contaminated Newburgh’s primary reservoir, Lake Washington, triggering a public health and environmental crisis. New York State has since declared Stewart Air National Guard Base as one major source of the contamination, and a state Superfund site. Firefighting foam containing PFOS has been used at the base. While alternative water sources, providing safe water, are online now, residents have been exposed for many years.

Riverkeeper and 1199SEIU have called on the state to conduct comprehensive blood testing for Newburgh residents as part of a meaningful health screening. Upon the news that the State Department of Health will be offering such a program, both organizations have issued statements:

“The Commissioner of Health’s announcement that his department will commit to biomonitoring is welcome news, despite being overdue,” said Dan Shapley, Water Quality Program Manager at Riverkeeper. “City of Newburgh residents deserve a comprehensive medical screening program to address years — even decades — of exposure to this extremely toxic contaminant. Testing of all willing residents to determine PFOS exposure is a necessary first step to address the ongoing health concerns of Newburgh residents.”

“In declaring Stewart Air National Guard Base a Superfund site, committing to regional source water protection, resolving to develop a treatment plan for Lake Washington, and now agreeing to blood testing, the Cuomo Administration is beginning to take necessary measures to address Newburgh’s water crisis,” said Riverkeeper’s Director of Legal Programs, John Parker. “Members of New York’s legislature, particularly Newburgh’s representative Assemblymember Frank Skartados, should be acknowledged for their efforts toward ensuring the welfare of those affected by contaminated water.”

A September 19 community meeting in Newburgh, where state and federal officials will update local residents on the water crisis, is an important opportunity for residents to ask questions and learn more details of the upcoming blood testing program.

“Riverkeeper will continue to advocate for a fair and comprehensive response to the drinking water contamination crisis. We urge residents of Newburgh, the health community, and the area’s civic leaders to attend the September 19 community meeting,” said Riverkeeper’s Director of Community Engagement, Sarah Womer.

“Protecting the environment is a primary public health issue for 1199SEIU members — particularly for our 1,500 members in Newburgh at this moment. As frontline healthcare workers, we are dedicated to saving lives, healing and promoting wellness,” said Maria Castaneda, Secretary Treasurer of 1199SEIU, who also serves on Riverkeeper’s Board of Directors. “Medical professionals who study toxic chemicals say blood tests are an important tool to monitor patient health, so our members eagerly await blood testing as part of a comprehensive health screening program for Newburgh residents.”

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