The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a catch-and-release advisory for fish contaminated by perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in Newburgh and New Windsor.
These streams and lakes include Beaver Dam Lake, Moodna Creek, Washington Lake, Masterson Park Pond, Silver Stream and Recreation Pond, thought to be the chief delivery point for PFCs flowing from Stewart Air National Guard Base and into the local watershed. A stream between Stewart State Forest and Beaver Dam Lake is also included in the advisory.
“What we find is the levels of PFCs in the fish are high enough that a catch-and-release advisory should be in place,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. Fishing itself is fine, Seggos said, but “don’t consume the fish.”
Seggos was joined by city and county officials at the City of Newburgh water treatment plant on Monday to make the announcement.
Catch-and-release advisories are also in effect in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, which had drinking water supplies contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). However, the commissioner explained, “PFOS has a greater affinity for protein” than PFOA, and can become concentrated in high-protein food such as fish.
The lakes and streams in question are all downstream of the Stewart Air National Guard Base, which was designated a state Superfund site last year when high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and other PFCs were found there.
Washington Lake – the city’s main drinking water source – was shut down due to PFOS contamination in May 2016. State testing has shown the chemical leached from the air base into Recreation Pond, and further into Silver Stream and Washington Lake. The city issued a previous catch-and-release advisory for the lake last year.
“There should be no more excuses after this week for the Pentagon to clean up this contamination at the source,” said Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney.
The congressman announced that he would introduce an amendment to the 2018 Department of Defense Appropriations Act requiring $35 million be devoted to cleanups at Air National Guard bases contaminated by PFCs. “The time for bureaucratic feet dragging is over,” the congressman said.
Maloney was referring to the DoD’s lack of action in the water crisis, now more than a year old. The federal agency has been roundly criticized by elected officials, environmental groups and Newburgh-area residents for non-action in the face of DEC data which reveals the air base is the chief source of PFC contamination in the watershed. The DoD has stated it would carry out its own investigation of the base this year.
“The state has done literally everything it can,” said Seggos.
The DEC will pay for a new pump and filtration system at Washington Lake, an overhaul of the city’s water treatment plant and pricey drinking water from the Catskill Aqueduct, among other related expenses. The state has also carried out a blood-testing program that found Newburgh residents have five times the level of PFOS in their blood as the average American.
“The highest levels have been found among residents who have lived here a long time,” Seggos said. These levels are “still below what the average American would have had in their blood 30 years ago,” Maloney noted.
Manufactured in the U.S. until 2000, PFOS was used in Scotchgard products, cookware and other non-stick products. It was also a key ingredient in fire foam, used for decades at the air base. “This is a public health problem,” said Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay. “This is an environmental problem… people are being poisoned.”
While the state and local municipalities have done the utmost to address the water crisis for over a year now, the DoD has been the “glaring exception,” said Gallay. “Every day that goes by, the problem gets larger,” he said.
An additional $70 billion in defense budget spending is expected next year, Maloney said. “We’re saying, ‘You have more money than ever,’” he said. “These excuses have got to stop.”
For more information about the Newburgh water crisis and the catch-and-release advisory, visit Health.ny.gov/newburgh.
By SHANTAL RILEY