CITY OF NEWBURGH — Newburgh officials are hoping the city is included in a nationwide federal study of exposure to the toxic chemicals that have polluted water supplies in the city and other municipalities around the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Center for Environmental Health are taking public comments on a plan to collect blood, urine, tap water and dust samples from households exposed to polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from nearby military facilities.
The class of man-made chemicals includes perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), whose high levels in Washington Lake spurred the shutdown of Newburgh’s primary water supply in May 2016.
Stewart Air National Guard Base has been named the source of the lake’s contamination, and high concentrations of PFAS have also been found at New York Stewart International Airport.
The chemicals exist in foams used by military facilities and airports to extinguish aircraft fires. Studies have associated them with a number of health problems, including kidney and testicular cancers, birth defects and high cholesterol.
“We want to make sure that we participate in the study,” Mayor Torrance Harvey said. “Hopefully, this will bring a greater awareness to the nation and the world about contamination in water sources, because Newburgh is not the only community affected by this.”
At least eight assessments will be undertaken at current or former military facilities with known contamination from PFAS, according to the ATSDR. In addition to a state investigation, a probe conducted by the Department of Defense confirmed PFOS contamination on the base and in a stream that fed Washington Lake.
The ATSDR is evaluating sites for inclusion in its study. Among the factors being considered is whether the affected communities have undergone blood testing.
Residents in the City of Newburgh and surrounding towns were offered free blood testing under a state program started in November 2016.
Results for the first 370 people tested showed a middle level of 16 parts per billion, meaning half those tested were above that number and half below. The result was three times higher than the national average of 5.2 parts per billion.
Current city residents showed the highest middle level — 20 parts per billion.
The state is also undertaking a separate study of cancer cases in Newburgh.