CITY OF NEWBURGH – After more than two months of requests from public officials, environmental groups and residents, the state Department of Health said it plans to institute a program to test Newburgh residents for the chemical behind the closure of the city’s primary water supply.

In a statement emailed on Tuesday, DOH said a biomonitoring program is being developed, in collaboration with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for Newburgh residents exposed to perfluorooctane sulfonate, also known as PFOS.

State officials have faced repeated demands to begin testing ever since the city closed Washington Lake on May 2 due to high levels of PFOS, which is associated with cancers, low infant birth weights and other health problems.

“We are working expeditiously to finalize the details and will be releasing more information in the coming weeks,” a statement from DOH read.

Newburgh will become the third New York municipality whose residents have been offered blood testing as the state and the country react to a growing crisis in which public water supplies have been contaminated by PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, a sister chemical also known as PFOA.

Earlier this year the state launched a testing program for the Village of Hoosick Falls and the Town of Petersburgh, both in Rensselaer County. Wells supplying drinking water to their residents have been polluted by PFOA.

Results released in June showed the average level of PFOA found in Hoosick Falls residents was more than 10 times the national average.

“While it's welcome news to see the DOH acknowledge the need for biomonitoring, we want to ensure that Newburgh receives no less a response than Hoosick Falls,” said Dan Shapley, water quality program manager for the environmental group Riverkeeper. “Newburgh residents deserve a comprehensive medical monitoring program to address years, and likely decades, of exposure to toxic contamination.”

In Newburgh, the use of firefighting foams at Stewart Air National Guard Base is considered the source of Washington Lake’s contamination.

In March state investigators found alarmingly high levels of PFOS at a retention pond on the base. The pond discharges into Silver Stream, whose waters have long been used to supplement Washington Lake.

Last month the Department of Environmental Conservation declared the base a state Superfund site and demanded that the Department of Defense identify the source of the PFOS and clean up the base.

“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 John Parker, Riverkeeper’s legal programs director.

lsparks@th-record.com