TOWN OF NEWBURGH — Weeks after criticism from Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, the Department of Defense released a draft report showing that Stewart Air National Guard Base and a stream carrying discharges from the base to the City of Newburgh’s shuttered primary water supply have significant levels of a toxic chemical associated with numerous health problems.
Results from tests of sediment, soil and water samples on and off the base undertaken after the state identified the base as the source of Newburgh’s contamination showed high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate and related chemicals in an area around a former base landfill and at a retention basin capturing waste from hangars where accidental discharges of firefighting foam containing the chemicals were reported.
The company hired to investigate contamination at Stewart also found high levels at Recreation Pond, which collects surface water runoff from the base and discharges it into Silver Stream; and in the stream’s network, starting at the pond and leading to Washington Lake.
In one water sample taken from a tributary that carries discharges from Recreation Pond to Silver Stream, the concentration of PFOS was measured at 169 times the health advisory standard of .07 micrograms per liter for drinking water set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"It was like pulling teeth,” Schumer said. “This report must be immediately shared with the public and environmental experts so we can quickly understand the extent of the contamination and peruse the best ways to remove these toxins from our drinking water systems.”
The report comes nearly two years after the state Department of Environmental Conservation culminated its own investigation into PFOS levels in Washington Lake by placing Stewart Air Base on New York’s Superfund list of contaminated sites and ordering DoD to clean up the property.
While it still must be finalized, the report largely confirms what DEC and state Department of Health investigators concluded: that contamination originating at Stewart was discharged into Silver Stream, whose waters Newburgh diverted to Washington Lake for drinking water.
"DoD has wasted the last two years confirming what we already know from the state's investigation in 2016,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “It's time for DoD to get serious and begin taking actions to clean up their mess."
Newburgh is among a number of municipalities near military facilities whose drinking water supplies have been contaminated with PFOS, PFOA and related chemicals. Both PFOS and PFOA have been linked with kidney and testicular cancers, ulcerative colitis, birth defects and other health problems.
Washington Lake was ordered closed in May 2016, and Newburgh is now using state funding to buy water from New York City’s Catskill Aqueduct.
"Sadly, the information they provided offers nothing new," Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino said. "We really need the DoD to comprehend that this toxic water crisis is a national defense emergency, requiring a rapid response from the very institution sworn to defend us.
"And what we desperately need now is for the DoD to be more forthcoming with producing their records which document a well-known history of toxic waste dumping in and around their land above Washington Lake which has washed down into our precious watershed and directly into our drinking water for a very long time. And we need them to produce all of their records, now - not in another two years."
A sample of surface water taken from a tributary linking Recreation Pond with Silver Stream showed a PFOS concentration of 11.8 micrograms per liter and a PFOA level of 3.37, according to the report.
At the retention basin, a groundwater sample for PFOS was 70 times the EPA guideline and for a surface water sample 36 times the guideline.
Levels of PFOS and PFOA exceeding the EPA’s health advisory were found in other locations, including surface water from Recreation Pond; monitoring wells at the base’s current and former fire stations; and soil from one of the base’s hangars.
"While we are still reviewing this report, it's clearly just another case of ‘too little, too late’ and falls well short of the comprehensive investigation that is needed to fully identify the scope and extent of the contamination and advance cleanup measures to stop the flow of contamination emanating from the base,” Seggos said.