Newburgh sues feds, state, manufacturers over toxic water
Source: http://www.recordonline.com, August 7, 2018
By: Leonard Sparks
Newburgh is suing the federal government, New York, state agencies and manufacturers it blames for the contamination of the city’s primary water supply, which has been closed for more than two years due to high levels of a chemical associated with cancers, low infant birth weight and other health problems.
A suit filed Monday accuses the U.S. Department of Defense and Air Force, the state Department of Transportation, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the National Guard and 18 other defendants of allowing perfluorooctane sulfonate to poison Washington Lake through the use of firefighting foams at Stewart Air National Guard Base and New York Stewart International Airport.
According to the complaint, the airport and base lacked measures or had inadequate or “failing” protections in place to prevent the leaking of the chemicals into the lake’s watershed. The airport and base are on DOT-owned land.
The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, also accuses 3M and other companies that manufactured the class of chemicals that includes PFOS of knowing the environmental and health risks since at least the early 1970s.
By 1987, the military knew the risks of the chemicals and that drinking water wells had been polluted, according to the suit.
Newburgh is asking a court to order the cleanup of Washington Lake’s watershed, which encompasses the airport and air base; pay for clean water until the cleanup is complete; compensate the city for its costs; and require the defendants to pay damages.
“The City is asking the court to hear and respond to our citizens’ exposure to toxic contaminants,” Mayor Torrance Harvey said. “We are standing up for our citizens’ rights to clean and healthy water, and demanding damages so we can provide our citizens rebates for the contaminated water they received.”
Neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office nor the DOT and the New York National Guard have responded to requests for comment. A representative for the Port Authority said the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits.
The lawsuit is rooted in an environmental and health crisis that began in May 2016, when Newburgh announced it would stop drawing drinking water from Washington Lake due to high levels of PFOS.
Amid growing concerns about PFAS, Washington Lake was tested in 2014 as part of a nationwide program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Results showed PFOS levels more than twice the 70 parts-per-trillion advisory limit for drinking water set by the EPA, as well as the presence of other PFAS. Testing of surface water samples from the lake in March 2016 showed PFOS levels as high as 243 ppt.
Investigators with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health eventually pinned the contamination on accidental discharges and the testing of firefighting foams at the air base.
Wastewater from the base is discharged into Recreation Pond. The pond flows into a tributary of Silver Stream, whose waters Newburgh diverts to Washington Lake. Among the highest PFOS results at the base were 5,900 ppt at a Recreation Pond outfall and 6,990 ppt at a catch basin.
In August 2016 the state designated Stewart Air Base to its Superfund list of contaminated properties and began fighting the Department of Defense over cleanup and continued discharges into Silver Stream.
High levels of PFOS were also found at Stewart International Airport, including a runway area where firefighting foams were used to extinguish a fire that erupted on a FedEx airplane in 1996. Surface soil samples taken at the airport in June 2016 were as high as 1,840,000 ppt.
The airport has been declared a potential Superfund site.