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For Release: Tuesday, October 25, 2016

New York State's Water Quality Rapid Response Team Announces Significant Progress in Efforts to Ensure Clean Water for Newburgh

Construction of Municipal Water Filtration System and Lake Washington Drawdown Underway

Biomonitoring Program to Begin November 1st
DEC Begins Sampling of Fish for Contamination

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) today announced significant steps to address water contamination issues in Newburgh. Construction of a permanent Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC) filtration system at the City of Newburgh's water treatment plant began in September and is on track to be fully operational by October 2017. Under terms of an agreement with the City, the State has committed to fully funding this large-scale system and will pay for the operation and maintenance for as long as it is needed.

DEC continues to work closely with the City to implement a plan to reduce the water levels in Lake Washington to address potential threats to the Lake's dam and surrounding watersheds. DEC is undertaking protective measures to maintain the integrity of the dam structure while minimizing the potential for the release of PFOS-contaminated water over the dam spillway and into the surrounding Quassaic Creek watershed. Operations to draw down the Lake began on September 20, and is continuing at rates as high as 3,000 gallons per minute to maintain a safe level throughout the fall and early winter storm season. Water is being discharged to Silver Stream after first being filtered through a portable GAC treatment unit.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos recently met with City of Newburgh and Orange County officials to provide an update on the progress. Commissioner Seggos and DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker serve as co-chairs of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's Water Quality Rapid Response Team and are working closely with City and County officials to address contamination and ensure clean drinking water for City of Newburgh residents.

"Since identifying the contamination in March, New York State's top priority has been to provide and secure a clean, long-term drinking water supply for the City of Newburgh," Commissioner Seggos said. "Working together, we've made incredible progress. While more remains to be done, the State will continue to work with our federal and local partners until the job is finished."

"We have taken a number of important actions to eliminate PFOS exposure in drinking water for Newburgh residents," said Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. "DOH has also been working closely with our local and federal partners to implement a biomonitoring program that will begin on November 1 and provide residents with a greater understanding of their past exposure to PFOS."

As part of the ongoing field investigation into the extent of PFOS contamination in the area, DEC recently conducted fish sampling at Moodna Creek and Recreation Pond. Sampling will continue at Beaverdam Lake and a tributary, Lockwood Basin/Washington Lake and Brown's Pond, a clean reference location, over the next few weeks. These sites were chosen to sample impacted waters, ponds, and streams where people might be fishing, and locations where wildlife could be impacted. Each site is being sampled for one or more sportfish species, plus a minnow species to be evaluated for ecological food chain impacts. The fish will be analyzed for 13 perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) including PFOS and PFOA. Results from standard fillets will be used by the New York State Department of Health to provide advice on fish consumption while DEC will use whole fish results to examine potential ecological effects of the contamination. Results from the sampling are expected in early spring 2017.

Today's announcements complement DOH's ongoing efforts to conduct a comprehensive biomonitoring program for City of Newburgh residents with concerns about their past exposures to PFOS and other perfluorinated chemicals from the City's drinking water. The first blood tests will be held at the Cornerstone Family Healthcare locations at 147 Lake Street and 290 Broadway in Newburgh beginning on Tuesday, November 1st. Blood tests will be scheduled first for residents who expressed interest in participating in testing at public meetings or contacted DOH. Interested residents are strongly encouraged to pre-register for an appointment by calling 518-402-7950 or emailing BEOE@health.ny.gov. Day, evening, and weekend appointments are available and more dates will be added based on demand and feedback from the community.

Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney said, "It doesn't matter if you live in a big city or a small town - everyone deserves safe drinking water and the right to know what health effects they could experience if their water is contaminated. Working together with Governor Cuomo we have gotten clean water to folks in Newburgh without them paying a dime, held the Department of Defense accountable, and ensured anyone who wants to get tested will be able to get their blood tested."

Senator William Larkin said, After working with DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and local officials, we are proud to announce construction is underway on a new filtration system at the City of Newburgh's water treatment plant to address the PFOS contamination problem in Newburgh. This new full capacity system, along with the biomonitoring program for residents, are important steps in the right direction for the greater Newburgh community and great news for taxpayers. Cooperation and teamwork always produce positive results and I look forward to continuing our work with all parties involved to further serve our communities."

Assemblyman Frank Skartados said, "Once again the state is demonstrating its commitment to the health of the people living in the City of Newburgh. The construction of a permanent water filtration system, the drawdown of Washington Lake and the biomonitoring of residents, add to a long string of responsible and immediate actions taken by the state to remedy Newburgh's water contamination problem."

Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus said, "Since the identification of this problem, I have worked closely with the DEC and Department of Health, under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, to do all we can to ensure Newburgh's drinking water is safe. Persistent and consistent efforts will continue to be necessary here as Newburgh residents deserve peace of mind that their water is safe now and forever."

City of Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy said, "I am thrilled with the state's quick and steady progress to begin construction of the new filtration system and drawdown Lake Washington to ensure the health and safety of our residents. Now with the launch of the biomonitoring program, our residents will continue to get information on the impacts of this contamination. I look forward to our continued partnership to provide clean drinking water to our community."

In May and June, DEC and DOH assisted the City in transitioning to the Brown's Pond water supply and then to the New York City Catskill Aqueduct, both of which have tested non-detect for PFOS. The State is providing funding for upgrades to the existing connection to the Catskill Aqueduct to ensure the City of Newburgh can continue to draw from this backup source in the future. The State has also committed to covering the City of Newburgh's payments to the City of New York for use of Catskill Aqueduct water. In September, the State transferred $2.4 million to the City of Newburgh, the first of several advances planned to cover the City's water bill.

In August, DEC designated Stewart Air National Guard base as a Class 2 State Superfund site, identifying the U.S. Department of Defense as a potentially responsible party, and unlocking the full authority and resources of the State Superfund law to ensure comprehensive and expedited clean-up of contamination in the area.

Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo established the Water Quality Rapid Response Team charged with swiftly identifying and addressing critical drinking water contamination concerns across the state. Co-chaired by Commissioners Seggos and Zucker, the team has been working to rapidly respond to site-specific issues, and to develop and Action Plan that will include recommendations to strengthen the state's existing drinking water, groundwater, and surface water protection programs.

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