U.S. Rep. Sean Maloney (NY-18) held a press conference at Washington Lake on Monday celebrating the passage of the PFAS Action Act in the House of Representatives. Maloney released a letter on Monday demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell take immediate action on the PFAS Action Act.
“This is the prime place to be,” said Maloney. “It has been really the ground zero of our local understanding of this issue.”
In 2016, Washington Lake was confirmed to have been contaminated by polyfluoroalkyl substances [PFAS/PFOS]. Stewart National Air Guard Base was the confirmed source of the contamination. Washington Lake is the City of Newburgh’s primary reservoir.
Municipalities like the Town of New Windsor and the City of Newburgh were impacted negatively by the contamination. Still, these compounds are not unique to upstate New York. Hundreds of municipalities across the nation have had their water sources contaminated. Like Washington Lake’s contamination, other contaminations can also be sourced to military facilities.
The PFAS Action Act is a bipartisan package of 11 bills focused on protecting families from PFAS/PFOS, cleaning up waste sites, and banning dangerous toxins in home goods, like cookware. The legislation officially passed the House on January 10.
One of the bills is Maloney’s PFAS Testing Act of 2019. His bill specifically demands the testing of all PFAS/PFOS substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act by any entity who manufactures or processes PFAS chemicals. The bill also requires the Environmental Protection Agency set forth testing requirements for PFAS and make results public.
“It’s quite clear to me that Mitch McConnell is taking his clue from the White House,” said Maloney. “The President has threatened to veto it.”
On January 7, the White House released a statement opposing the PFAS Action Act. The statement alleged that the legislation “would require the Administration to bypass well-established processes, procedures, and legal requirements of the nation’s most fundamental environmental laws.”
“There’s a lot of powerful interests that don’t want this done,” said Maloney over the resistance to the legislation.
“There are powerful economic interests that do not want to bear the cost of making sure what they’re doing is not exposing the rest of us to hazardous substances. This is always the tension here in environmental legislation.”
Maloney emphasized that this legislation is necessary because hundreds of communities are impacted by toxic substances like PFAS/PFOS. Chemicals like PFAS/PFOS can lead to serious health issues including cancer, premature death, asthma, and infertility.
“I am proud to say that many of the steps that were taken here in Newburgh are in some ways a template for what we need to do nationally,” said Maloney.
After the water contamination was discovered in 2016, steps were taken to solve the situation. These steps included water testing, blood work, and the switching of water sources.
“On the national level what we must do, is we must get serious about understanding the toxicity of these materials, greater testing of these materials, real standards set by the EPA.” said Maloney. Maloney hopes that eventually PFAS/PFOS will be deemed a hazardous material.
“Everyone deserves clean safe drinking water,” said Maloney. “In communities like the City of Newburgh, they cannot afford either the health effects, obviously the human cost, but also the cost to the taxpayers.”
Standing in support with Maloney were local government officials from Orange County, City of Newburgh, and the Town of New Windsor.
“Public safety is our number one priority,” said City of Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey. “A lot of times when we talk about public safety, we think [of]law enforcement. We don’t think of public safety in the realm of environmental issues.” Harvey applauded state, federal, and local government efforts to address the water contamination.
“Clean drinking water is a right, not a privilege,” said Harvey.