Defense Department report confirms Stewart Air Base contamination

A member of the 105 Airlift Wing Base Defense Squadron stands guard during a ceremony held at the 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, NY on June 4, 2016.


By LEONARD SPARKS | The Times Herald-Record | Published: July 12, 2018

NEWBURGH, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Weeks after criticism from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Department of Defense released a draft report showing that Stewart Air National Guard Base and a stream carrying discharges from the base to the City of Newburgh's shuttered primary water supply have significant levels of a toxic chemical associated with numerous health problems.

Results from tests of sediment, soil and water samples on and off the base undertaken after the state identified the base as the source of Newburgh's contamination showed high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate and related chemicals in an area around a former base landfill and at a retention basin capturing waste from hangers where accidental discharges of firefighting foam containing the chemicals were reported.

The company hired to investigate contamination at Stewart also found high levels at Recreation Pond, which collects surface water runoff from the base and discharges it into Silver Stream; and in the stream's network, starting at the pond and leading to Washington Lake, from which the City of Newburgh stopped drawing water in May 2016.

In one water sample taken from a tributary that carries discharges from Recreation Pond to Silver Stream, the concentration of PFOS was measured at 169 times the health advisory standard of .07 micrograms per liter for drinking water set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"It was like pulling teeth," Schumer said. "This report must be immediately shared with the public and environmental experts so we can quickly understand the extent of the contamination and peruse the best ways to remove these toxins from our drinking water systems."

Newburgh is among a number of municipalities near military facilities whose drinking water supplies have been contaminated with PFOS, PFOA and related chemicals. Both PFOS and PFOA have been linked with kidney and testicular cancers, ulcerative colitis, birth defects and other health problems.

With Washington Lake closed, Newburgh is using state funding to buy water from New York City's Catskill Aqueduct.

The report, which still must be finalized, seems to back what state investigators concluded: that contamination originating at Stewart was discharged into Silver Stream, whose waters Newburgh diverted to Washington Lake for drinking water.

A sample of surface water taken from a tributary linking Recreation Pond with Silver Stream showed a PFOS concentration of 11.8 micrograms per liter and a PFOA level of 3.37, according to the report.

At the retention basin, a groundwater sample for PFOS was 70 times the EPA guideline and for a surface water sample 36 times the guideline.

Levels of PFOS and PFOA exceeding the EPA's health advisory were found in other locations, including surface water from Recreation Pond; monitoring wells at the base's current and former fire stations; and soil from one of the base's hangars.

"Newburgh residents are tired of waiting," Schumer said. "The Air Force and DoD must do more to clean up this toxic mess and they must do it now."

The report comes nearly two years after the state Department of Environmental Conservation culminated its own investigation into PFOS levels in Newburgh's Washington Lake by placing Stewart Air Base on New York's Superfund list of contaminated sites and order DoD to clean up the property.

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