Newburgh Residents Have A Concern With Contaminated Water. Newburgh, a city in upstate New York, has struggled with poverty and a high crime rate, and now the 28,000 residents have a new concern to face: tap water that may have exposed them to a chemical associated with cancer, CBS News reports.
An ambitious effort has been initiated by state officials to offer blood tests to Newburgh’s residents after the chemical PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) was found in the city’s drinking water reservoir. The water was found to contain PFOS at higher levels than is acceptable for federal guidelines. Newburgh is near a military air base where firefighting foam that contains the chemical has been used for years.
PFOS has been linked to cancer, thyroid issues and other serious health problems. The blood testing results are expected to be released in early 2017. The results will not tell if Newburgh’s residents are actually at an increased risk for specific health problems, but will show how their exposure compares to others.
Products Affected by PFOS and PFOA
Comparative testing has taken place in some smaller communities with water allegedly contaminated with PFOS or its similar chemical relative, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which is used in stain-repellent and nonstick coatings. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFOA is used in a broad range of consumer goods. These products include cleaners, textiles, leather, paper and paints, fire-fighting foam, and wire insulation, as well as food packing, such as pizza boxes and fast-food containers, according to CBS News.
Approximately 1,500 people were tested near an air base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and were found to have slightly elevated levels of PFOS and PFOA. In Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, New York, plastic plants are being held liable for PFOA in public and private wells. About 3,000 residents were tested in February and were found to have PFOA blood levels as high as 500 times the national average.
Personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP are actively reviewing potential lawsuits on behalf of individuals who have been affected by contaminated water.
Newburgh lies about an hour’s drive north of New York City. It served as George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters, and was abuzz with machine shops, clothing factories, shipyards, and brickyards in the early 20th century.
A slow decline began in the 1960s, after a new bridge spanning the Hudson River diverted traffic away from Newburgh’s commercial center. Factories began shutting down or leaving for the new highway corridor outside the city. This led to the city’s notoriety for derelict abandoned buildings, violent crimes, and drug gangs, reports CBS News. PFOS was found in 2014 in 175-acre Lake Washington, Newburgh’s drinking water supply, at a level 170 parts per trillion (ppt), comfortably below the 400 ppt limit recommended at the time by the EPA. In May 2016, the EPA set a new level of 70 ppt for short-term exposure. Newburgh declared an emergency and changed to a new water source.
Stewart Air National Guard Base, has been identified by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, as the source of the PFOS and the recent concern for Newburgh’s water supply. It is alleged that the chemicals ended up in a stream leading to the city reservoir, due to years of firefighting drills taking place at the Air Base.
Blood tests with no cost to Newburgh residents were being offered at one of seven clinics. through November 19. However, getting local people tested was challenging as over one third of the residents live in poverty and over 46 percent of households speak a foreign language at home, according to CBS News.
“Newburgh is a very poor city, and special recognition has to be given to the fact that people are really struggling, really at the edge, are going to need extra help getting out, learning about it,” says a resident, whose sculpture studios is in one of Newburgh’s most crime-ridden and run-down neighborhoods. “On my street, people have vaguely heard there was an issue with the water.”
Another resident, who is a medical case manager, says she tried knocking on doors in her own four-story apartment house. She found no one had heard about the blood-testing program, despite a few public meetings and media reports. She suggests information should be sent home with school children and posted on the street, in shopping centers, and on buses. “We need to get this information out at all levels to everyone,” she says and personally sent out a mass phone text to everyone in her address book encouraging them to call to schedule an appointment to be tested.
The director of the state health agency’s Center for Environmental Health Dr. Nathan Graber, says his office is translating information into Spanish and Creole and involving Newburgh’s religious leaders, school superintendent and community groups to improve outreach.
Although officials inform people that blood tests won’t diagnose specific illnesses, some Newburgh residents hope there will be some useful information about these new health worries. An area resident says her son’s sudden death in 2010 at the age of 18 was attributed to natural causes. She now thinks that PFOS might have had something to do with it. “I’m always thinking about this, trying to find answers about what happened to my baby,” she says. “We were always very health-conscious and drank lots and lots of water, because water is life, right? Now I wonder about that.”
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