The Department of Defense held another town hall-style meeting at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center on Thursday, April 18 in the wake of another contamination by Atlantic Aviation at Stewart International Airport. The recent contamination was not by the Department of Defense, but it continues the discussions of how to remove and stop the use spread of PFOS and PFOA in the watershed.
In a recent test conducted by the City of Newburgh’s environmental consultant, it was discovered the C6 Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam released on April 13 into Silver Stream does contain high levels of PFOS and PFOA.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) assured residents that the new C6 foam was environmentally friendly, however, the study conducted by the City of Newburgh proves otherwise.
“These sample results show that the AFF contaminated runoff released bycontain high levels of PFAS,” said City Engineer Jason Morris.
The DEC has requested for testing to be conducted downstream from the contamination by Atlantic Aviation. Samples were taken on April 16, the DEC expects results later this week.
A Safety Data Sheet from the foam manufacturer was used immediately after the spill to determine whether PFOS was present in the foam.
“The DEC continues to closely oversee the cleanup efforts of Atlantic Aviation, the party responsible for the April 13 spill of firefighting foam at Stewart International Airport. DEC is requiring the responsible party deploy all available resources to assist with the cleanup and to ensure public health and the environment are protected. DEC will remain on-scene overseeing ongoing cleanup operations and if any violations are uncovered, DEC will take any and all appropriate enforcement actions,” wrote the DEC in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
According to the DEC the high levels of PFOS in the water could be attributed to past released related to firefighting, training, or accidental releases of legacy foam.
“Last weekend’s release highlights the vulnerability of the City of Newburgh’s watershed,” said Interim City Manager Joseph Donat. “The City is committed to safeguarding its watershed and will not rest until a long-term solution is agreed upon. In order to reach an agreement, we need to see increased collaboration and cooperation between all parties involved.”
The city reminds residents that the drinking water in the City of Newburgh is completely safe to drink. The city is currently hooked up to Brown’s Pond and off Washington Lake, it’s the previous source of drinking water.
The issues with drinking water began in May of 2016 when levels of PFOS and PFOA were discovered above the EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 parts per trillion. This contamination was the product of Aqueous Firefighting foam used by the Air National Guard running into Recreation Pond into Silver Stream, a tributary of Washington Lake.
The Department of Defense promised to hold regular meetings with the City of Newburgh to have transparency in their process towards remediation. The first meeting by the DoD was held in November of 2019, community members were given the opportunity to ask and write questions to be answered by the Department of Defense. These questions were posted on the Orange County Government Website. To view the answers given by the DoD click here.
The answers to questions posted online were similar to the answers received in person from Lt. Gen. Director of the Air National Guard, Scott Rice and Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, John Henderson.
The DoD is continuing to conduct studies to understand the full level of contamination and will install a filtration system by Summer of 2019. The new filtration system will go a step further than the filtration system installed by New York State at Washington Lake.
According to Jason Lynch, Operations Manager at BERS-Weston Services, the organization is contracted to install the treatment system adjacent to the pond and modify the structure so no water can leave that has not run through the system.
The contaminated water from recreation pond will go through three types of treatment, a solid removal, a granulated carbon filtration and then an ion exchange resin filtration. According to Lynch, the ion exchange resin has been used on numerous military bases to successfully filter out short chain PFOS. The three types of filtration are used to allow the resin to focus entirely on removing PFOS.
The current filtration system provided by New York State does not filter out short chain PFOS. The filtration system is currently being used by the City to filter the city’s drinking water coming out of Brown’s Pond.
The Department of Defense may have outlined what they are planning to do and the use of the $2.4 million filtration system at Recreation Pond, but they were not clear on any action regarding the remediation of contamination in groundwater at the Airport.
Studies are being conducted by WOOD an independent contractor. They have found various sites of potential contamination that go beyond PFOS and PFOA.
“We are still investigating where the sources of contamination are before we can even look at treatment,” said Kerri Doyle, The Base Field Lead Investigator at WOOD. “There are several technologies we are looking into to prevent the groundwater from migrating, we are also watching what they are doing in Michigan.”
When tested in 2018 Doyle found the levels of PFOS and PFOA were about the same as they were back in 2016. Many community members were not convinced by the lack of progress made by the Department of Defense on the situation.
“I remain flabbergasted that a fire retardant of any type can spill into any watershed,” said City of Newburgh Councilman Bob Sklarz. “They foolishly said it didn’t contain PFOS, now we are finding out that it did. I don’t care if it’s Kool-Aid, it shouldn’t get into our water supply. We heard a lot about process back in November, they agreed to meet with us and give us an update and all we heard about again was process, we don’t want to hear process anymore we want to hear progress, we want to see our water clean and we don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
The DoD promised to create a Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) within three months of the previous meeting, which six months later has yet to be pulled together. Air National Guard Restoration Chief, Elaine Maddinec, admitted the three month goal of creating a RAB was overly ambitious. She claimed the Thursday night meeting would be the start of the RAB and there will be action going forward to create regular meetings based on the recommendations of participants. The RAB will not have the ability to take any action in terms of remediation, but there will be a means of promoting transparency between the Air Guard and the community.
“I got no good feeling going away from that meeting last Thursday, I felt like he was trying to sell me a car. It didn’t make me satisfied that they are really doing something, it was just another meeting is what it was,” said Councilwoman Patty Sofokles. “We need to protect our watershed and the fact that they initially said that the foam was not anything with PFOS or PFOA in it is absolutely a wrong statement.”