New York state environmental and health officials held a public meeting Monday night in Washingtonville in Orange County. They delivered updates on well testing in an area touched by the PFOS contamination believed to be a result of firefighting foam used at the Stewart Air National Guard base and airport.
The meeting was the latest development after PFOS contamination was reported last year in Newburgh’s main drinking water source — Washington Lake. Officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health delivered a presentation and then took questions from an audience that filled much of the Washingtonville Middle School auditorium. Craig Filippini’s well had been tested in the Beaver Dam Lake District.
“And so it was detected for both chemicals of PFOA and PFOS. They said the levels were about 8 or 9. Regardless of that, they shipped one of these carbon filtration systems and I’ve had that installed,” Filippini says. “We just had it tested the other day. I’m unsure, at this point, if there’s been any positive effect or not. We haven’t gotten the results. They’ve also shipped us bottled water.”
The state has been picking up the tab of the POET, or Point of Entry Treatment Systems, at some $14,000 per unit. In addition, Filippini says he’s also interested in having his family blood tested. Salisbury Mills resident Doreen Losauro, who also wants to sign up for blood testing, says her home now has a POET system as well.
“But my concern is the levels have changed and what are they going to do in the future. I feel like it’s a band-aid,” Losauro says. “I feel like they need to correct it at the source of the contamination and not just put band-aids. I feel like some of these systems are just band-aids on the problem.”
PFOS and PFOA were detected in the surface water of Beaver Dam Lake and its tributaries. The surface water is not used as a source of drinking water. PFOS and PFOA belong to a family of PFCs or perflourinated compounds, which have been determined to originate from an area in the western part of Stewart International Airport, where firefighting foam was used to extinguish a FedEx aircraft fire in 1996. The Beaver Dam Lake District encompasses nearly 800 homes, some 650 of which use private groundwater wells for their drinking water. Andrew Mulholland rents his property in the Beaver Lake area. His well was tested with no PFCs detected.
“Right here in the meeting here, everyone’s talking about the testing and the blood samples and everything like that. I’m concerned about property,” Mulholland says. “What’s going to happen when you have to sell your house. Do you have to disclose that this is an issue or what?”
DEC Remediation Bureau Director George Heitzman says the filtration units are being installed out of an abundance of caution in homes where PFCs were detected well below the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s 70 parts per trillion health advisory. Matthew Turnbull is Democratic Minority Leader of the Orange County Legislature and represents the Beaver Lake District.
“We’re concerned. We saw what happened in Newburgh and we’re going to keep our eye on this and any way the county can be useful or helpful to the citizens that are having to deal with this horrendous problem,” Turnbull says. “It’s scary when you have stuff in your water that can cause an illness, serious illnesses.”
In the Beaver Dam Lake District, the DEC’s Heitzman says PFOS and PFOA contamination is mainly in the northwest corner. Overall, he does not expect contamination beyond Newburgh, New Windsor and the Beaver Dam Lake District.
“We started at the source areas on the airport and on the air base and we followed the contamination through the watersheds,” Heitzman says. “So based on what we know, this, I think, are the only areas that we reasonably expect this contamination.”
So far, the state Department of Health has received 268 requests for well sampling and has collected 133 samples. Of these, 82 samples were from the Beaver Dam vicinity, and 24 contained PFCs, though all were below the EPA health advisory level. To date, 22 POETs have been installed and 20 locations have been cleared for well use based on non-detections in treated water. Dan Shapley is water program quality director for environmental group Riverkeeper. He commends the state for taking aggressive action by installing filters even where PFCs are below the health advisory level.
“I know people are frustrated that it can’t be faster and I think we’re all frustrated that it can’t be faster, but the reality is this is a new kind of contaminant and there aren’t that many labs that can test for it and it is difficult,” Shapley says.
State officials say private well sampling continues this week and sampling beyond what is planned will be based on results. They say they are swamped with requests for well sampling and the blood testing program for the greater Newburgh area.