The New York state Department of Health held two pubic information sessions Thursday in Newburgh on the second set of PFOS blood test results. The blood testing regimen was put in place after the public learned in May 2016 of PFOS contamination in Washington Lake, Newburgh’s main drinking water supply.
Just 15 people attended the second session, about half the number from the first session. State Health Department Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Public Health Brad Hutton talks about the results for the second 370 people who were tested.
“Really, the second set of results are really similar to the first thus far,” Hutton says. “The average level of exposure to PFOS in the community that’s been tested, those people who are on the water supply, is around 18. It was 19 or 20 when we were here last time.”
The last time was the end of February, when Hutton discussed with the public results from the first 370 people who were tested.
“The current national average is five and so, yes, it’s elevated and confirms, I think, what we expected to see, that the population here was definitely exposed to PFOS through the water,” Hutton says.
He says, so far, 1,100 people have been tested and 740 have received their results. Another 3,000 people have been sent lab orders to get tested at one of four Newburgh sites connected with the state’s PFOS blood testing program. Dr. Betsy Lewis-Michl is director of the Division of Environmental Health Assessment in the state Department of Health’s Center for Environmental Health. She says, of the 740 participants who have received their results, 495 are currently on city water. And of these 495, some 25 people have levels above 70; the highest is about 150.
City of Newburgh resident Michelle Herrera received her results, which show levels for six different PFCs, or perflourinated chemicals.
“My PFOS was 26.5; the PFOA was 2.98; and the PFHxS was 14.9,” says Herrera. “And my problem is that my husband and I have lived in Newburgh for many years, and he has a lot more health issues than I do, but his PFOS was 9 and mine was 26.5. And we don’t, we haven’t drank the water in years We use bottled water and we have a water cooler.”
She says before this, she did use the water. Hutton says it takes 5 to 7 years for the PFOS blood level to drop in half. Herrera wants to follow through to see if this is the case.
“My main thing of coming tonight was, the half life is between 5-to-7 years, I want to make sure that we get retested,” Herrera says.
She wants to see that her PFOS level drops in half in about six years. Hutton says that offering retesting down the line is a possibility but that the health department now is focused on current testing and results. City resident Cynthia Mack says her PFOS level is 26.9.
“My concerns are the long-term effects for the residents of the City of Newburgh and for the surrounding areas, people that have been drinking the water,” Mack says. “I understand that it’s imperative for people to get tested so that their results and any health issues could be entered into a database for future research so that the Department of Health has information and can help us moving forward.”
The city of some 30,000 residents now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct while a new carbon filtration system is constructed, all funded by the state. In August, the state declared Stewart Air National Guard base a Superfund site after identifying it as a source of PFOS contamination in Newburgh’s drinking water supply. A state investigation confirmed that the PFOS originated from firefighting foam used at the base.
Some residents say their healthcare providers have no idea what to make of PFOS blood levels. Here’s the state health department’s Lewis-Michl.
“We mailed out information to a list of providers in the Newburgh area. It’s the guidance that has come from the federal agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry. “So that’s just mailing it. We can’t guarantee that physicians have time to read it.”
She says outreach to educate Newburgh area physicians will continue, including in person. Hutton says the health department is not focused on testing a certain number of people.
“Ultimately, I want the community to feel satisfied that we responded to their needs,” says Hutton. “From a scientific/public health perspective, we probably would have been fine at 700. I don’t know that we’re going to see the results change a whole lot, but I think they need to know that they have an opportunity to get their own number and to understand it.”
From here on in, the state health department will mail out PFOS blood test results on a rolling basis.
To participate in PFOS blood testing, call the NYS DOH at 1-800-801-8092.