After Contaminating Newburgh’s Water, Department of Defense finally Starts Clean up Process
In the parking lot of the local Days Inn hotel, directly overlooking the water supply for the City of Newburgh New York, a woman by the name Ophra Wolf and her husband walked up to me. I was expecting them.
Ophra lives in Newburgh, and has become an advocate on the issue of what is supposed to be a basic given right in America, our water.
One of the first things Ophra said to me is her battle for clean drinkable water is not just for her family, but for generations to come. Newburgh’s water supply has been shut down for 2 and a half years. Contaminated by the Air National Guard at nearby Stewart Air Force Base. Newburgh pays the City of New York, about two hours away, $170,000 a month for water. Ophra is part of a volunteer group titled the Newburgh Clean Water Project. She said:
“The Newburgh Clean Water Project is a group of volunteers from the City of Newburgh who are working to make sure that our water supply gets cleaned up for our generation, and the next many generations to come.” -Ophra Wolf, City Resident and member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project
“How frustrated have you been over the last 2 and a half years.” -Political Anchor and Reporter Dominic Carter
“Extremely frustrated!!! and the biggest frustrated has been around the lack of information, and communication from the government agencies who we believe are supposed to be protecting us and who are also in this case responsible for the pollution.” -Ophra Wolf, City Resident and member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project
“Have you and your husband been afraid to use your water at home?”
“Well I started to understand that something was wrong with the water just shortly before the news came out. So we bought a home filter just a few months before the state of Emergency was called. I felt it very strongly in my body. Yes, we continue to drink filtered water, now that we’re back on Brown’s pond.”
“There is a lot of concern because there are also people in the City of Newburgh who can’t afford to go out and buy a filter.” -Ophra Wolf
“A lot of people in the City of Newburgh that don’t even know how badly they need one.” -Ophra Wolf
The source of the contamination has been a toxic chemical known as PFOS, which is in a firefighting foam used by the Air National Guard. PFOS is effective at putting out hot jet fuel fires. PFOS found in tap water can cause Cancer and Developmental delays.
The Department of Defense recently met with community residents and will now install a filter system.
A filter system may not sound like much, but when there has been little response from the Federal Government for two and a half years, it amounts to a lot. Newburgh Residents are thankful, but yet determined to have a voice in the clean-up project.
“So how do you feel with this news from the Federal Government?”
“Well first of all, I feel like It’s good that we have some kind of movement, and for us, that was a non-starter. We can’t really start to think about how to filter and take care of our reservoir until the pollution stops at the source. So having a filter at Rec Pond is key for us to be able to make any movement forward. But we also feel that’s obviously not the solution because this poison is in the ground. So it’s a long term remediation that needs to happen. You know, the state agencies and the Department of Defense, Air National Guard, need to clean up the ground on that base. Otherwise those chemicals will continue leeching into our water over time, and we’re not thinking about ourselves, we’re thinking down the line. This is a start. We’re happy things are starting. We think that’s important. And we also want to make sure that from now on, as residents, we have a voice and there is transparency in the process. How do we know that that filter is actually doing it’s job. How do we know its being tested regularly? We were promised a resident advisory board, when the Department of Defense was here a month ago, for their first meeting and we haven’t heard anything about that! How do we make sure that residents are involved in the process of saying what kind of filter gets put there, because the filter they put in for us here in the City is actually, probably not good enough to filter out the full range of chemicals. It filters out one end of the range, but not the other. So we want to have a say in this, and we want to know what’s happening as things go because we want to make sure that we moving towards the right solution for the long term. Not just another band-aid and move on.” -Ophra Wolf, City Resident and member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project
Dan Shapley also met us in that Days Inn Hotel parking lot. Dan is with the Riverkeepers Environmental Group. His speciality is water.
“Ok. So explain to me Dan, what has happened?”
“So the Department of Defense has made the first real commitment to stop the discharges that are polluting the streams that feed this reservoir, which is City of Newburgh’s traditional source of water, as well the streams that fed down into the Hudson River. That’s the first, we’re heard that commitment from the Department of Defense so it’s a significant step.” -Dan Shapley/Riverkeepers Environmental Organization
“It a good step?”
“It’s a good step. We still need to see a lot more details to understand what standards are they going to meet, by filtering that discharge, and are they going to be able to handle high volumes and are they going to be transparent in the process so people in this community understand, and are part of those decisions.” -Dan Shapley/Riverkeepers Environmental Organization
This is a quick fix to stop the pollution from leaving the base.
Perhaps because I’m an optimist by nature. I thought about the problem being over. I asked my next question to Dan this way:
“So it’s possible…conceivable, that they might be able to solve the problem?”
“This will still be an interim step. It’s important to understand this is supposed to be the quick fix that we asked for two and a half years ago. We still need a long-term comprehensive clean-up which is going to be a couple of years more to develop and implement. That has to happen in parallel. But this is a quick fix to stop the pollution from leaving the base and that is important.” -Dan Shapley/Riverkeepers Environmental Organization
I return back to Ophra Wolf. She is worried whether the filter system will completely work and wants full transparency. My next question to Dan Shapley.
“Let’s just say for argument’s sake that this is effective? Could you see the reservoir opening for use for the people of Newburgh anytime soon?”
“Those are important questions that we need to know the details about the filtration that’s going to be put on the base, and really address those first.” -Dan Shapley/Riverkeepers Environmental Organization
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has been a strong advocate on behalf of the people of Newburgh, and he released this statement on the Department of Defense installing a filter system.
“I’m so pleased that after years of foot-dragging, the DOD and ANG are moving in a positive direction and commencing plans to implement long-awaited and desperately needed interim remedial measures around Stewart Air National Guard Base, including the installation of stormwater filtration equipment at the highest tested location, Recreation Pond. This equipment will be a key component of ensuring that PFOS-contaminated water is no longer continuing to flow off base and is thwarted from further infiltrating and toxifying the city’s primary drinking water source.” — New York Senator Charles Schumer
“No resident of Newburgh should have to worry that they will be harmed by the water they drink, nor should contaminated water continue flowing off base over two years since its discovery; once this critical filtration system is up and running within the next few months, we will be one step closer to making that a reality.” — New York Senator Charles Schumer
Schumer, the Senior Senator for New York State explained the rates of contamination in Newburgh’s water were well beyond the acceptable 70 parts per trillion limit of human exposure to the related PFOA and PFOS. Testing done by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) in March of 2016 showed water supply contamination likely came from the release of aqueous-forming foam (AFFF) from Stewart. The testing also showed one of the outfalls discharging stormwater into Recreation Pond contained 5,900 ppt PFOS, almost 85 times the EPA health advisory limit of 70 ppt. The base was then declared a Superfund site. The Air National Guard completed a site inspection the inspection helped identify 13 potential release locations at the base.
Newburgh’s water supply remains closed and unusable.