The Newburgh City Council passed a resolution this week to authorize litigation against “all potentially responsible parties” in the PFOS contamination of the City of Newburgh drinking water supply.
The resolution was passed unanimously by the city council, nearly a year and a half following the start of the water crisis. “I feel that it’s long overdue,” said Councilwoman Cindy Holmes at City Hall on Monday.
Last year, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation conducted comprehensive testing of the city’s drinking watershed and determined the source of the contamination to be the Stewart Air National Guard Base.
The council provided no specifics on the litigation on Monday. No documentation on PFOS-related legal actions by the city were immediately available this week. However, residents and lawmakers alike have called for the city to take legal action against the U.S. Department of Defense since the state traced the chemical back to the air base.
“This has to be done,” said city resident Jonathan Jacobson. “We have to recover the costs of solving a crisis from those that caused the crisis.”
PFOS, short for perfluorooctane sulfonate, is a chemical that was used in many heat, stain, grease and water-resistant products, including fire foam. The DEC states that fire foam used by the Air National Guard is the primary cause of the contamination of the city’s drinking water reservoir at Washington Lake, located less than a mile away from the air base.
Though the DoD began sampling water in the drinking watershed over the summer, it has yet to take responsibility for the PFOS contamination of the city’s drinking water, local lakes and streams, and private and public wells in the towns of Newburgh and New Windsor.
According to the EPA, exposure to perfluorinated chemicals has been associated with fetal development problems, liver damage, high cholesterol, testicular and liver cancer.
Jacobson, an attorney running for a seat on the city council, suggested the city also sue the New York State Thruway Authority, which, he said, used to maintain a dump next to the New York State Thruway (I-87), not far from Washington Lake.
“They would clean up oil spills on the Thruway and they would dump it there,” Jacobson claimed. “The reason I know this is I represented clients in their workers’ (compensation) claims, who became severely ill because of working there.”
Jacobson warned against relying on state and federal officials to get the DoD to compensate the city and state for the cost of work and damages associated with the water crisis. “They’re not going to do this out of the goodness of their hearts,” he said. “The only way it will work is if we sue them… this has to be done.”
The city is currently defending itself against lawsuits by residents exposed to PFOS in city drinking water. The state has led various PFOS-related projects around the watershed, including filtration at Washington Lake, an overhaul of the city water treatment plant and a region-wide PFOS blood testing program.
“Get your bloodwork done,” urged Councilwoman Karen Mejia, referring to the state Department of Health’s ongoing PFOS blood-testing program, extended until December. “If we’re going to be entering into litigation, you should to be able to prove what your contamination level is at the time of litigation.”
For more information about the PFOS water crisis in the City of Newburgh, visit Cityofnewburgh-ny.gov – click on the “PFOS water crisis” link on the homepage.
Editor’s Note: Mid Hudson Times Publisher Carl Aiello is among the plaintiffs in a class-action suit filed on behalf of residents exposed to the chemical PFOS.
By SHANTAL RILEY