The New York State Department of Health announced Wednesday that results of the Newburgh PFOS blood testing program have been mailed to the first 370 people who were tested. State health officials also are expanding the program.
Officials say there will be two public information sessions later in February to help residents understand their results and receive updates on the state’s response to the PFOS drinking water contamination that was publicized in May 2016. Tapping into clean water started immediately. State Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes says the free blood testing program that began in November has been expanded to three Newburgh locations.
“And I think really the big key here is, Allison, is the enhanced blood testing program here. It’s more efficient, there’s more options, it’s easier to get in and get screened, and it all speaks to an adjustment of the program, an improvement and enhancement of the program, all geared towards some of the concerns we heard,” Holmes says. It’s making sure that we can get the right level of commitment in the community and get people out there to get tested.”
Residents now will be able to schedule appointments at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, Quest Diagnostics and Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings (LabCorp). Previously, two of Cornerstone Family Healthcare’s Newburgh locations handled all the testing appointments. They will no longer do so. To date, 3,400 people have expressed interest in having their blood tested and 740 people have been tested. Genie Abrams is a Newburgh City Council member.
“I’m very pleased that they’re going to expand the locations and hours and try to do better outreach to reach the many thousands of Newburghers,” Abrams says. “After all, there are 30,000 or people who live here, and only a very small percentage of us have taken advantage of getting our blood drawn.”
Dan Shapley is water quality program director for Riverkeeper.
“We’re very encouraged to see that the first round of results are being released to those who had their blood tested and we’re happy to see that the state is expanding the options for people to get that testing at more locations now going forward,” Shapley says. “However, we do still remain concerned that we really haven’t seen a real strong outreach plan that we’re convinced will really effectively meet the needs of the population.”
Abrams had her blood drawn and expects the results soon.
“I think that the state has not done a very good job, so far, in publicizing when and where the drawings will be,” says Abrams. “And, also, what does it mean when we get our numbers. Let’s say our number is 20? Does that mean we’re going to get cancer? That’s the bottom line.”
“That’s part of the process here. We view this very much as a marathon, not a sprint. And so certainly community outreach here, as we now have a new improved program, will be critical to the integrity of this process moving forward,” says Holmes. “We want to get people to the meetings. We want to get people to the blood testing opportunities. We want to work them to better educate them about where we stand. And we’ve heard those concerns and we’ll try to address them.”
Shapley says the state should take the lead on outreach, working with city and community partners.
“We know that Newburgh has high rates of poverty, people who speak languages other English,” Shapley says. “It’s a challenging community to reach.”
Prior to the health department’s February 15 announcement, Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, whose district office is in Newburgh, and who had his blood tested, says he was in contact with state officials about expanding the program.
“There has been an understandable frustration with the amount of time this is taking. But the state has been a pretty good partner to us,” says Maloney. “And I’ve been talking with the governor’s office about getting it going even more efficiently so that anyone who lives in that city can get the information they want.”
State health officials say PFOS analysis is a complex process requiring sophisticated equipment and specialized staff. The Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center Laboratories in Albany is one of the few in the country performing this task. They also say the blood test for PFOS exposure does not determine current or future health effects, but can be used to measure levels of exposure to the chemicals. During the February 22 and 28 information sessions at SUNY Orange’s Newburgh campus, DOH officials will help residents understand how their blood levels compare to others in their community and nationwide. Additionally, the department has worked with Newburgh-area medical professionals to answer questions and better prepare them to answer questions from their patients.
Plus, a hotline has been established for the public to stay informed on the state’s response to PFOS in the Newburgh area. The number is 1-800-801-8092 and is manned Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The information sessions will take place on:
·Wednesday, February 22 from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.
·Tuesday, February 28 from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
SUNY Orange, Newburgh Extension
Chaplin Hall, Great Room (Rm. 101)
One Washington Center