News Feature | July 28, 2016

PFOA, PFOS Contamination Causes Prolonged Fight Over Testing

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

In the wake of a contamination that forced the closure of the primary drinking water supply for the city of Newburgh, NY, in May, City Manager Michael Ciaravino is asking the state Department of Health (DOH) to begin testing residents.

According to the Times Herald-Record, in a letter sent to DOH earlier this month, Ciaravino said that there is “adequate justification” for the state to offer testing for residents that were exposed to perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), whose levels led to the closure of Washington Lake.

State officials already launched a testing program for residents of two Rensselaer County communities whose water supplies have been tainted by perfluorooctanoic acid, a related chemical also known as PFOA.

“We are all concerned about this,” Ciaravino told the City Council during a meeting in early July.

The Times Herald-Record reported that PFOS was first detected in Newburgh’s drinking water in December 2013 after the U.S. EPA ordered municipalities to begin testing for the chemical.

Most people have been exposed to PFOS and PFOA because of the chemicals’ past use in consumer products.

According to twcnews.com, a contaminant in Newburgh’s water source had been there since 2014.

Mayor Judy Kennedy said that routine water testing found the reading of the chemical PFOS was within the EPA guidelines of 200 ppt, making it safe to drink.

Until the origin of the contaminant could be found, Washington Lake was no longer used as Newburgh’s main water source, twcnews.com reported. Instead, the city began using Brown’s Pond.

Ciaravino lifted a state of emergency less than 24 hours after activating it. It caused a disagreement between both the city manager and the mayor, who believed the state of emergency was unnecessary.

Ciaravino originally wanted to begin pumping contaminated water from Washington Lake, whose waters have risen.

In a letter seeking advice from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Ciaravino presented two destinations for the pumped water: Silver Stream, which flows into Moodna Creek and then the Hudson River; or into Masterson’s Pond and, ultimately, the Hudson by Quassaick Creek.

“The release we are proposing is in the nature of an interim remedial measure to mitigate potential long-term damage to the city’s reservoir, the surrounding towns and the property owners, residents, and their related drinking wells downstream of the dam,” Ciaravino said.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Clean drinking water is vital March 20, 2007" Joost Nelissen © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/