PFAS Update — Hudson Valley City Authorizes its City Council to Commence Suit Involving PFOS Contamination to Drinking Water Supply

The City of Newburgh, New York has had enough. After the city’s water supply was shut down following contamination by perfluorooctane sulfonate, a toxic chemical known as PFOS, residents have authorized its city council to commence a lawsuit against the alleged contaminator, a nearby Air National Guard Base.

PFOS, and the related chemical PFOA (both of which are part of the class of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFASs) was first discovered in Newburgh’s water supply in mid-2016. Washington Lake, Newburgh’s main drinking water source, was found to have high levels of PFOS after standard water testing was completed. The state of New York stepped in and provided funding for the city to receive water from New York City’s water supply while the issue was sorted out. Now, over a year later, the city has built and installed a new, multi-million dollar water filtration system, as well as instituted a blood testing program that is the first of its kind.

Newburgh’s investigation into its water began after a nearby town, Hoosick Falls, reported contamination by PFOS and increased cases of cancer in its residents. Activists in Newburgh demanded that they, too, receive the free blood testing that was offered to Hoosick Falls residents after the discovery of the contamination. In October 2017, the State Department of Health confirmed that residents of Newburgh could obtain orders for blood testing and receive same day tests at several locations in order to determine the level of PFOS in the bloodstream. Five-thousand residents expressed interest, and over two-thousand residents have received results to date. The interest in PFOS and PFOAs and their health effects inspired Congressman Sean Maloney, from Newburgh, to introduce the Investing in Testing Act, a piece of legislation designed to support a five-year study by the CDC to investigate “safe” levels of PFOS and PFOAs in the bloodstream.

On December 12, 2017, the Investing in Testing Act was signed into law, and Newburgh itself is the subject of specific research into incidents of cancer that may arise from the alleged water contamination. Residents continue to push for additional testing of its water as the new water filtration system begins its operations this week. The city has expanded its blood testing program for an additional year so that interested residents may still obtain results regarding the levels of PFOS and PFOAs in their systems.

Along with certain types of cancer, PFOS and PFOAs have been linked — or at least attempted to be linked — to ulcerative colitis, birth defects, and high cholesterol. It is believed by residents and activists in Newburgh that the chemicals seeped into the water system through the usage of firefighting foam that was used for decades at the nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base. A lawsuit has not yet been filed, but is expected to commence within the next few months.