News > News > Safeguard Drinking Water > On first anniversary of Newburgh’s water crisis, elected leaders and advocates call on Department of Defense to stop PFOS discharges from Stewart Air National Guard Base

On first anniversary of Newburgh’s water crisis, elected leaders and advocates call on Department of Defense to stop PFOS discharges from Stewart Air National Guard Base

For immediate release: May 2, 2017
Contact: Leah Rae, lrae@riverkeeper.org, (914) 478-4501 ext. 238

On the first anniversary of the emergency declaration that put a spotlight on the City of Newburgh’s drinking water crisis, federal, state and city leaders joined Riverkeeper to call on the Department of Defense to take immediate steps to stop the flow of polluted water from the Stewart Air National Guard Base.

While many government officials and agencies have acted to protect Newburgh-area residents, and the streams and creeks that feed the Hudson River, the Department of Defense has failed to stop the ongoing discharge of PFOS from the Air National Guard Base to Silver Stream.

On May 2, 2016, Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino declared a state of emergency, as test results showed levels of PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) in the city’s primary drinking water reservoir, Lake Washington, above advisory levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The state of emergency was soon lifted, as New York State led a multi-agency response, resulting in these actions, among others:

  • the provision of temporary clean drinking water from from Newburgh’s backup reservoir, Brown’s Pond, and ultimately New York City’s Catskill Aqueduct;
  • the construction of a new filtration plant to remove contamination from Washington Lake Reservoir, due to go online by Fall 2017;
  • the implementation of a free blood testing program for people who may have been exposed to contaminated drinking water;
  • the investigation of Stewart Air National Guard Base as the primary source of contamination of Washington Lake, and its designation as a state Superfund site;
  • the short-term filtration of Washington Lake water before its discharge back into local streams.

Just as water from Washington Lake has been filtered before being discharged to local streams, the Department of Defense should take immediate action to filter the discharges from Recreation Pond, which receives polluted discharges from stormwater infrastructure at the base. Riverkeeper has called on the Air National Guard Base to cease and desist all discharges since May 12, 2016.

The Newburgh water crisis, including subsequent advocacy by Riverkeeper to highlight the need for comprehensive drinking source water protection, also helped make the case for landmark new state commitments as part of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, signed last week by Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York State also established the Drinking Water Quality Council and set new requirements for the testing of unregulated contaminants at smaller public drinking water supplies that aren’t required by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to test for chemicals such as PFOS.

United States Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said: “Since the PFOS-contamination of Newburgh’s water was revealed, I have repeatedly called on the Department of Defense to stop the contamination at its source and immediately remediate all pollution with all due speed. While we have made progress in stopping local residents’ exposure to the tainted water, DOD and the Air Force have not moved fast enough or comprehensively enough to get the job done. I will continue to work with community leaders and groups like Riverkeeper to keep the pressure on the Air Force and DOD to finalize a plan and take the actions now that can stem current pollution and clean up the mess they made over the years in and around Stewart Air Force base.”

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said: “We’ve seen very clearly how much damage can happen to our local drinking water supplies when toxic chemicals enter our water systems. What the residents of Newburgh have gone through over the last year is telling of the work that still remains to be done to prevent this from ever happening again. We must continue to make the necessary strides to solve the issue of contaminants like PFOS and PFOA, because New Yorkers should be able to drink their water without having to worry about whether it is going to harm them. I will continue to work in the Senate to help the Newburgh community in any way I can.”

U.S. Rep Sean Patrick Maloney said: “One year after sounding the alarm on contamination in Newburgh’s water supply we are still waiting for DoD to step up and take responsibility. Working together with our local and state partners we’ve made significant progress – we made sure my neighbors in Newburgh have clean drinking water and free blood testing – but there is still more to be done to stop the ongoing pollution of Silver Stream. We won’t stop till our water is clean and safe.”

Assemblyman Frank Skartados said: “With its responsibility established beyond doubt, what are we to make of the Pentagon’s failure to pay for the services required to make the City of Newburgh and its residents whole again? That the Department of Defense fights for Americans abroad but abandons them at home?”

Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino said: “Today, May 2, marks the one year anniversary of my Declaration of Emergency which completely shut down Washington Lake as our community’s source of precious drinking water. I would be shocked if anyone had suggested last year that we would still have a toxic and cancerous discharge of PFOS water — in excess of 5,900 parts per trillion! — still pouring out of Rec Pond, into Silver Stream, down the Moodna Creek, into the Hudson River, and on to the Atlantic Ocean! Moreover, it is outrageous to even imagine that the United States government itself, through its own Department of Defense, could even allow this cancer causing water to continue to discharge into our community — especially since the preventative technology has existed to immediately stop this PFOS discharge for the past 365 days! I respectfully request President Trump, as our Commander in Chief, to order his Department of Defense to immediately install the temporary filtration technology already proven to be effective while they sort out the legal issues between the United States government and the State of New York. I invite President Trump to visit the City of Newburgh to see firsthand the threat to our community’s drinking water.”

Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program Director, said: “The response to Newburgh’s water crisis has included significant action to protect human health and the environment by multiple levels of government – but not the Department of Defense. A year later, polluted water continues to flow from the Stewart Air National Guard Base unabated. That is unacceptable.”

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