Newburgh, New York Residents Fear Illness from Groundwater Contamination

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Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

Residents of Newburgh, New York, north of New York City, are worried that their tap water may contain a chemical linked to cancer.

State officials recently announced an ambitious effort to offer blood tests to the city’s 28,000 residents after the chemical PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) was found in the city’s drinking water reservoir at levels above federal guidelines, the Associated Press (AP) reports. PFOS was used for years in firefighting foam at the nearby military air base.

In 2014, PFOS was detected in Lake Washington, which supplies the city’s drinking water. The PFOS level was 170 parts per trillion (ppt), less than half the 400 ppt limit then recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But in May 2016, the EPA set a new level of 70 ppt for short-term PFOS exposure. Newburgh declared an emergency and shifted to a new water source.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation identified the Stewart Air National Guard Base new Newburgh as the source of the PFOS. The chemical was long used in firefighting emergencies and drills, and the DEC said the chemical may have entered a stream that leads to the city reservoir.

PFOS Linked to Serious Health Issues

PFOS has been linked serious health issues including cancer and thyroid problems. The results of blood testing, which should be released early next year, will not tell individuals whether they are at increased risk for specific health problem, but the test results will show how one individual’s exposure compares to the exposure of others. Testing has been done in several smaller communities with water contaminated with PFOS or the similar chemical, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which is used in nonstick and stain-repellent coatings.

Parker Waichman notes that chemical exposures through drinking water have been linked to numerous health problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a health advisory about the effects of PFOA and PROS. The agency said the advisory is “based on the best available peer-reviewed studies of the effects of PFOA and PFOS on laboratory animals” and alsoepidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed to PFASs.These studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancyor to breastfed infants. The effects include low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations, cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver damage, immune effects, thyroid effects and cholesterol changes.

The EPA’s health advisory levels were calculated to “offer a margin of protection against adverse health effects to the most sensitive populations: fetuses during pregnancy and breastfed infants.

The health advisory levels were based on the drinking water intake of breastfeedingwomen, who drink more water than other people, and can pass the chemicals along to nursing infants through breast milk.

Free blood tests were available to Newburgh residents through November 19th at seven clinics in the area. But the AP reports it was a challenge to reaching Newburgh residents with the information. Many residents were not aware of the free testing or even aware of the water crisis. More than a third of residents live in poverty and may not have access to news sources and nearly half of Newburgh’s households speak a language other than English, the AP explains.

Health Concerns Among Newburgh Residents

Stuart Sachs, who moved to Newburgh from Brooklyn 14 years ago, is worried about the health of his 11-year-old daughter: “[M]y daughter’s been drinking and bathing in it . . . What diseases is she going to have to look forward to? It’s scary.”

Newburgh resident Dorice Barnwell, a medical case manager, knocked on doors in her the apartment building where she lives and found nobody had heard about the blood-testing program, despite several public meetings and media reports. Barnwell says information should be sent home from school with the children and posted at street corners, on buses and in shopping centers. “We need to get this information out at all levels to everyone,” she says. “I personally sent out a mass phone text to everyone in my address book encouraging them to call the number to schedule an appointment.”

Dr. Nathan Graber, director of the state health agency’s Center for Environmental Health, says his department is translating materials into Spanish and Creole and engaging with the city’s religious leaders, school superintendent and community groups to improve outreach.

Legal Help for Those Harmed Contaminated Drinking Water

If you or someone you know has developed cancer or other health problems associated with chemicals in the drinking water surgery, you should contact Parker Waichman LLP for a free, no obligation case evaluation. To reach the firm, fill out the online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).