Local groups and citizens held a rally over the weekend to call on the U.S. Department of Defense to halt PFOS discharges from Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, which drain into the city’s main drinking water source and the Hudson River.
Newburgh City Council member Genie Abrams is with a new group called Water Watchdogs and helped organize the rally of roughly 50 people to send a message to the Department of Defense.
“[Blows whistle.] DoD, we’re blowing the whistle on you,” Abrams said. “We’re going to hold you responsible now.”
Abrams, Democratic Assemblyman Frank Skartados and others stood in front of a temporary filtration site on Route 300 in New Windsor July 15, demanding the DoD stop discharging PFOS-laden water. Here’s Skartados:
“I was brought up to believe that when you break something, when you destroy something, when you pollute something, that you have a responsibility to make it right,” Skartados said. “And I demand that the Department of Defense steps up to the plate and does the right thing for the citizens of the City of Newburgh.”
The temporary filtration site is near Washington Lake, Newburgh’s main drinking source where PFOS was found in May 2016. The odorless, tasteless chemical has been linked to firefighting foams used at the nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base. In August 2016, New York state declared the Air National Guard base a Superfund site. Federal and state officials have been pressing the Department of Defense to take responsibility for the contamination ever since, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. An Air Force spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment in time for this broadcast. Newburgh attorney and city council member candidate Jonathan Jacobson hopes talk about the state potentially suing DoD is carried out.
“And I think it’s important that Newburgh and the state sue the federal government so that not only they clean it up but that they pay us for the cost of getting a clean water system and to ensure in the future that we have a clean water system,” says Jacobson. “And anybody who thinks that the Trump Administration is going to do this out of the goodness of their heart is not living in the real world.”
Earlier this year, New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos told WAMC the state would be in court unless the federal government takes responsibility and pays for New York’s expenditures under Superfund. Again, Skartados.
“I think they acknowledge that they are culpable for what has happened here but, obviously, ultimately, it’s about making us whole, making the state of New York whole,” says Skartados. “We have spent a tremendous amount of resources and money here, and I think it’s the DoD’s responsibility to refund and make us whole.”
Abrams says she and others came together to form Water Watchdogs after the sixth community meeting in Newburgh in early June where state and local officials delivered updates on the PFOS contamination.
“I was in the audience there just sitting there and I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I just stood up and said, ‘let’s do something,’” says Abrams.
At the weekend rally, Abrams handed out flyers with contact information for the Air Force and Department of Defense.
“It actually says the names, email addresses and phone numbers of the people to call at DoD. Now they’re going to be overwhelmed but good, good for them, let them be overwhelmed,” Abrams says. “We’re overwhelmed right now with PFOS.”
The state has found some of the highest concentrations of PFOS in outfalls from the base, at Recreation Pond. These outfalls drain into Silver Stream and other tributaries to Washington Lake. John Gebhards is coordinator of the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance.
“Why DoD is taking so long to study and make the decision to treat the water coming off of the Air National Guard and remove the PFOS is, I guess, political, military approach, etcetera, but it still is contaminating Silver Stream, so Silver Stream’s unusable,” Gebhards says. “Plus the wildlife, the fish and critters that live along there, are becoming contaminated, and the PFOS flows all the way into the Hudson River.”
The city now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct. The state is funding the installation of a permanent carbon filtration system, estimated to be up and running in the fall.