Lawmakers, clean-water advocates renew efforts to address contaminated water in Newburgh
A coalition of lawmakers and environmental activists have found an opening to try to force the U.S. Department of Defense to begin basic measures to keep chemicals from bleeding into drinking water sources in Orange County.
Lake Washington, nearby wells and the ground continue to be contaminated with the pesky forever chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, seven years after the lake's water was deemed unsafe to drink by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The chemicals have been linked to firefighting foam once used on Stewart Air National Guard Base.
The DoD and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation have done numerous studies and recommended numerous short-and-long term remediation projects, though none of the project have ever been started.
The delay is unacceptable to U.S. senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten GIllibrand and Rep. Pat Ryan who urged the DoD in a letter to begin basic projects to stop additional contamination.
Local clean water advocates have joined the chorus.
"It's quite slow," Jennier Rawlison of the Newburgh Clean Water Project said of the DoD's pace.
Rawlison, a mother and longtime city resident, remembers 2016 when new discoveries about the chemicals led the EPA to deem Lake Washington and several other water sources nationwide unsafe.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified PFOA as "carcinogenic to humans" PFOS as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" after a working group of experts did an extensive review of the chemicals.
The DoD recently directed military sites -- including Stewart -- to begin interim actions just to prevent further contamination that a filter on the base has failed to do during rainstorms. The coalition of lawmakers and activists want to hold the DoD to that.
"We see things in Newburgh that could be done now to reduce the contamination that is spilling off," Rawlison said, "especially when we have rain events, etcetera."
The coalition is asking the DoD to improve a runoff filtration system that becomes overwhelmed during storms, sending unfiltered, contaminated runoff into local creeks and the ground. The group also wants the DoD to begin slip-lining underground pipes.
The slip-lining project would install smaller pipes into existing pipes to protect against contamination.
Dan Shapley, the Director of Advocacy for environmental watchdog Riverkeeper, sees the release of DoD's guidance and the IARC's findings as an opportunity to try to force the DoD's hand.
"Everyone wants high-quality drinking water," he said, "so knowing when there's a moment when people can take action to help their drinking water, they take it."
News 12 has reached out to the DoD for a response to the coalition's pressure campaign.
The DoD had not responded by late Tuesday evening.
"The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Department of Health have also strongly recommended the implementation of interim actions at Stewart ANGB, subject to their evaluation and approval," the lawmakers wrote. "We agree with NYSDEC and NYSDOH, and urge DoD to begin studying potential measures as soon as possible."