U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and other officials are calling on the Air Force to expand its PFOS cleanup plan for Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh. They want contaminated waterways outside the base to be included.
New York Senator Schumer has penned a letter to Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Richard Hartley, urging that PFOS-contaminated off-post waterways be included in the Air National Guard cleanup plan that was submitted to New York state earlier in February. He says failure to include all impacted waterways is a dereliction of duty and demands immediate attention from top brass at the Air Force, Air National Guard and Department of Defense.
“And they’ve left out a lot of the places they’ve surveyed, so step one, a complete survey.” says Schumer.
And step two, he says, is to get the Air Force to clean up additional downstream waterways impacted by on-base PFOS contamination and pay for the cleanup.
“But they have to do a full survey of all the water around because water’s fungible,” Schumer says. “If one place is polluted and there’s another lake or pond or aquifer next to it, it could get polluted from that first one.”
Schumer says the bottom line is that PFOS-tainted water does not stop at the base’s perimeter and neither should the Air National Guard’s pollution source survey and clean-up plan. Dan Shapley is Water Quality Program Director for environmental group Riverkeeper.
“They have a permit that is a pollution discharge permit that includes that pond. There is no reason, in my mind, that they shouldn’t be taking responsibility for those discharges,” Shapley says. “ I don’t understand it. I find it maddening, frustrating, unfair, wrong. They need to step up and just do it.”
The DEC declared Stewart Air National Guard Base a Superfund site in August, noting that the agency’s investigations identified the base as a significant source of the PFOS contamination found in Washington Lake, Newburgh’s main drinking water source. The city now draws water from the Catskill Aqueduct and the state also will fund the installation of a permanent carbon filtration system, expected to be up and running in the fall. The contamination culprit is believed to be the historic use of firefighting foam. At the time, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Remediation and Materials Martin Brand said:
“As you now some of the highest concentrations of PFOS that we detected to date, as high as 5,900 parts per trillion, have been found in outfalls from the Air National Guard base,” said Brand.
It is these outfalls, including Recreation Pond, that are not included in the DoD survey of contamination locations and cleanup plan. And it is these outfalls that drain into Silver Stream and other tributaries to Washington Lake. DEC Remediation Bureau Director George Heitzman says the Department of Defense is slated to conduct an investigation this summer and submit a report to the state by the end of the year.
“Well, they’re going to look at the areas where they think these compounds were used or stored or tested, and they’re going to sample soil and groundwater in those locations,” says Heitzman.
In the meantime, says Heitzman:
“We’re waiting to see if DoD steps up,” Heitzman says. “We are hopeful that they’ll change their mind and we’ll continue to pressure them to change their mind.”
And if this doesn’t occur:
“We’re considering all legal approaches, yes.”
Meanwhile, Riverkeeper’s Shapley hopes DoD heeds Schumer’s call to action.
“We’ve had great response from our federal representatives on this and they’re the ones that hopefully can have the ear of this federal agency more than any of us,” says Shapley. “So I’m grateful and happy that Senator Schumer and others really made that call their own. We just hope it works.”
Air Force officials did not respond to a request for comment in time for this broadcast.
UPDATE: Part of statement from Air Force Civil Engineer Center spokesman Armando Perez:
“We identified 13 potential release sites in the preliminary assessment that wrapped up in 2016. In the next phase, which is currently underway at Stewart, we conduct site inspection, or SI, sampling. This phase provides data necessary to confirm whether a potential release occurred and whether that release has gone off site. Sampling is prioritized by factors such as potential pathways to drinking water, depth to groundwater and the potential for the contaminants to migrate off base. We expect to begin field work this spring when soil and water sampling can be conducted, and the SI report should be complete by fall 2017. Once complete, the Air Force will contract for further Remedial Investigation in FY18 to characterize and define contamination found during the SI phase. The RI phase of CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act) will investigate off site contamination.”