New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney and state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker were in Newburgh today, giving an update on the PFOS drinking water contamination that surfaced some 10 months ago. Maloney announced he will reintroduce legislation to require a federal study on long-term health effects of PFOS and PFOA exposure.
Democratic Congressman Maloney made the announcement at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, one of three sites recently designated by the New York State Department of Health for expanded free blood testing in Newburgh. Maloney, as he did in 2016, will introduce The Investing in Testing Act, to require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a two-year study into the long-term health effects of PFOA and PFOS exposure.
“As I stand here, I don’t have reason to believe that anybody in the City of Newburgh is going to experience any negative health effects as a result of PFOAs or PFOS’s having been in the water,” Maloney says. “But I don’t know that and I don’t want to happy talk it.”
New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker supports the legislation.
“And we urge Congress, we urge Congress to move forward with Congressman Maloney’s bill in short order,” Zucker says. “And I also reiterate that New York State’s call on the Environmental Protection Agency to set a maximum contaminant level for PFOS and the other PFCs as well. And as we’ve heard from the congressman, this is a national issue; it requires a national response. And if the federal government fails to set a level, then we will do what we need to do at that point.”
The EPA in 2016 set new lifetime exposure guidelines for PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion. It’s an advisory level. In the meantime, the state Department of Health last week held the first of two public sessions to discuss the PFOS blood test results of the first 370 people who were tested.
“So what we found was that the average Newburgh blood test results from the chemical PFOS were above the current national average. Now unfortunately the presence of PFOS in the blood only indicates exposure since that exposure has occurred,” Zucker says. “The challenge is that science has simply not yet established whether future health outcomes will result from the specific blood levels that we’ve detected. And we all share the concerns of everyone in Newburgh who got tested, they received their results, and then they want to know what these results mean for their health. And then they find out that the research simply doesn’t exist.”
He underscores the importance of discussing the results with one’s health care provider. Maloney, whose district office is in Newburgh, received his PFOS blood test results last week and says his level is 6. The national average, according to state health officials, is five, but many of those already tested in Newburgh have results in the 18-20 range, on average. Joan Cusack-McGuirk is president of St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital.
“Access is a big issue and especially when you live in a neighborhood where… there is poverty in this neighborhood,” Cusack-McGuirk says. “f we did not have the access here, where would they go? They would not get tested, so I am thrilled and I see it as a great opportunity for St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital to serve this community, and we should do that. It’s the right thing to do. I’m thrilled.”
Meanwhile, President Trump is to address a joint session of Congress Tuesday. Maloney says he will be listening for how what President Trump says might affect the lives of his constituents.
“Well, this is where the rubber meets the road,” Maloney says. “And when you hear these guys in Washington throw around terms like ‘deconstruct the administrative state,’ I’d like to know what the heck that means when we’re talking about the role EPA plays in testing municipal water supplies because if it weren’t for that program we wouldn’t know about this contamination, and it ought to be extended, not cut back, and we ought to have better research on the safe level of these contaminants in human blood, which depends on federal research dollars continuing to flow which, by the way, are a tiny percentage of the federal budget.”
“Being penny wise and pound foolish on cutting federal research dollars ends up biting us later because we want to know whether our drinking water is safe,” Maloney says. “This is what we’ve got an EPA for. This is what we’ve got a federal government for. And Dr. Zucker and the guys around the country need the federal government to step up and give them information on what’s safe and what’s not.”
State health officials are holding a second informational session on blood test results Tuesday from 10 a.m. until noon, at the SUNY Orange Newburgh campus.