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Riverkeeper: NYS must take immediate action on contaminated drinking water crisis in City of Newburgh

The City of Newburgh will host a public information meeting on Monday, June 20, 2016 at 6:00pm to discuss the status of the City of Newburgh’s public drinking water supply. Come to ask questions and raise concerns.
Aquinas Hall Auditorium, Mount Saint Mary College, 330 Powell Avenue, Newburgh, NY

For immediate release: June 17, 2016
Contact: Cliff Weathers, Communications Director
914-478-4501, ext. 239, [email protected]

Riverkeeper calls for sampling, blood testing and prohibition on PFOS discharges from Recreation Pond at Stewart Air National Guard Base.

Newburgh, NY — In an urgent letter to the state Commissioners of Health, Transportation and Environmental Conservation, Riverkeeper calls for immediate steps to stop the environmental and public health threats posed by contamination in the City of Newburgh’s drinking water and a comprehensive strategy to protect and restore the city’s water supply.

In May, the city declared a state of emergency after perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, a potentially harmful chemical, was found in Lake Washington, its primary drinking water source. At that point Newburgh stopped using the lake as its primary water source and began to get its water from Brown Pond and the Catskills Aqueduct.

While Newburgh withdrew its State of Emergency declaration after switching to backup supplies, Lake Washington remains contaminated with PFOS.

The three NYS departments have had the opportunity and authority to address — prior to Newburgh’s emergency declaration — the underlying causes of and the threats to the drinking water supply for the city. Riverkeeper, in a letter to the DEC Feb. 5, 2016, called on the department to address fundamental problems with Stewart Air National Guard Base’s pollution discharge permit. And on May 12, 2016, Riverkeeper called for the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Commander of Stewart ANG Base to address the drinking water crisis.

“It’s imperative that you seize the opportunity — as State and Federal law mandate — to effectively address a substantial crisis,” Riverkeeper Water Quality Program Manager Dan Shapley and Director of Legal Programs John Parker wrote in the letter, sent today. “The time is now and the need is clear to take a comprehensive approach to protecting and restoring this drinking water supply for the thousands of families affected.”

Riverkeeper is calling on each of the departments to take all necessary steps to immediately and comprehensively address Newburgh’s pressing water quality and drinking water problems.

Immediate actions requested by Riverkeeper to eliminate the public health and environmental threat of PFOS-contaminated drinking water include:

  • Prohibiting discharges of PFOS from Recreation Pond at the Stewart ANG Base.
  • Comprehensively sample Stewart Airport and Stewart ANG Base’s stormwater outfalls.
  • Conduct comprehensive blood testing as part of a health screening of residents.
  • Fund, or compel the funding of safe, temporary alternative water supplies for Newburgh.
  • Address the threat to Lake Washington’s dam and eliminate contaminated water releases from the Lake into other waters.

Short-term actions to address longstanding failures and to enforce Clean Water Act standards include, but are not limited to:

  • Suspend Stewart Airport and Stewart ANG Base State Pollution Discharge Elimination permits allowing the release of firefighting foam, because documented PFOS contamination violates permit conditions.
  • Revise, re-issue, and re-notice public comment for SPDES permits.
  • Draft required industrial stormwater permits that are lacking for Stewart Airport and Stewart ANG Base.
  • Map the City of Newburgh’s watershed, including stormwater outfalls and other risks to water quality.

Long term actions to institute a comprehensive strategy for protecting source waters of Newburgh’s drinking water supply include, but are not limited to:

  • Updating the state’s Open Space Conservation Plan to identify open areas within Newburgh’s drinking water supply as priorities for conservation.
  • Fund a full-time watershed inspector general for Newburgh, or personnel with equivalent authority.

“Each of the issues we raise here, alone, warrant immediate attention,” says the letter. “Take together, however, these issues and problems have led directly to the damaging and negative impacts on the reservoirs that supply water to local residents.”

View letter sent to the Commissioners.