Clean Water

Browns Pond | Photo by Daniel Case | Source: Wikipedia


Alternate sources of water have been provided to ensure the City of Newburgh's tap water is running free of PFAS in the short term. Currently, the City is on the Catskill Aqueduct, New York City's clean and protected water supply, between January 30 and Nov 30, 2020 (date subject to change). At that time, the aqueduct will be shut off for 10 weeks to allow the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to inspect and repair its infrastructure. For that 10 week duration, the City will return to Brown's Pond, (a 0.3 square mile backup reservoir). Brown's Pond will be tested for PFAS, PFOA and 1,4 Dioxane, (toxins now regulated by NY State law), before the water is filtered through the City's granulated activated carbon (GAC) filtration system. These are temporary sources. The City of Newburgh is currently without an adequate, guaranteed source of clean water for its future. Neither New York State nor the Department of Defense, (the primary polluter), have committed to supplying Newburgh with clean water for the time span it will take to fully remediate our watershed and return to our original source of drinking water: Lake Washington. Remediation will most likely take decades, so a long-term solution is needed.


In 1990, Stewart Air National Gaurd Base (ANG) accidentally spilled 4,000 gallons of Class B liquid fire-fighting foam from a hangar-based sprinkler system. This outfall leached into the City of Newburgh's watershed accumulating in Recreation Pond, Silver Stream and eventually Washington Lake, as well as in the groundwater from which Newburgh and New Windsor wells draw from. Later, in 1996, the same foam was used to extinguish a fire on a FedEx plane that made an emergency landing at Stewart International Airport. This foam continued to be used for fire-fighting drills up until 2017 when newly adopted regulations, prohibiting its usage (over 1lb), took full effect. It is unknown whether the PFOS-laden Class B foam is currently stored on the base. 


While PFAS are still unregulated by the federal government, the EPA’s assessment of peer-reviewed scientific research has revealed their toxic nature. In 2009, the agency established a health advisory limit of 200 ppt which it strengthened in May 2016 to 70 ppt.

New research by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) suggests toxicity at 700x less than that: 1.0 - 0.1 ppt.
In 2016, The City of Newburgh’s Water Quality Report noted PFOS levels of 150-170 ppt in Lake Washington.

In advance of the new EPA's advisory being released, Newburgh's City Manager (at the time), Michael Ciaravino, declared a State of Emergency and began transitioning the City's primary drinking water source from Lake Washington to Brown’s Pond. The extent of the pollution to the watershed was soon revealed:

The highest levels detected to date—nearly 5,900 parts per trillion (ppt)—were found in an outfall from the Air National Guard Base that drains into Silver Stream, a primary tributary of Lake Washington. Groundwater samples collected from existing monitoring wells on the Air National Guard Base detected concentrations of up to 3,160 ppt and surface water samples collected from the retention pond on the base detected concentrations of up to 790 ppt.

On August 12, 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) declared Stewart ANG a Superfund Site and called on the U.S. Department of Defense to investigate and remediate the pollution. Over three years later, no action has yet been taken to stop the toxic PFAS discharges from the Stewart Air National Guard Base. However, the Army Corps of Engineers is currently working to install a system to filter the discharges that is expected to be operational by the end of summer 2019—it is considered an interim measure and is long overdue, but is a promising first step in the long process required of the DOD to fully remediate the damage done to our watershed.


Meanwhile, our watershed is also threated by additional pollutants, overdevelopment, lack of enforcement and poor planning that NCWP and its allies are working to address as well. 

Catskill Aqueduct - Our LONG-TERM WATER SOURCE?

The Catskill Aqueduct is part of NYC's drinking water supply system—one of the most extensive and well-protected municipal water systems in the world—with three major aqueduct-and-reservoir networks and over 130,000 acres of conserved land. However, this system is 100+ years old in some parts and in sore need of repair.

"The Croton, Catskill and Delaware watersheds deliver approximately 1.4 billion gallons of pristine, unfiltered drinking water each day from 19 upstate reservoirs to more than nine million people living in New York City, Westchester, Putnam, Orange and Ulster Counties. The 6,000-mile network of subterranean aqueducts carrying the water are in various states of disrepair and threaten the City's supply of fresh water."

Intermittently between 2018-2020, the Catskill Aqueduct is undergoing a $158 million maintenance project to repair leaks, replace old valves, remove biofilm accumulation and undergo other mechanical and structural upgrades. Once the Aqueduct has been upgraded, we hope that it can remain as the City of Newburgh's long-term supply. The NYC water system is overseen by NYC's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as well as their Water Board and Municipal Water Finance Authority.

Catskill Aqueduct Construction, 1911 | Flickr
Catskill Aqueduct in Ulster County | Wikipedia
Catskill Aqueduct Maintenance | NYC DEP


In the absence of EPA leadership, states have responded by setting their own PFAS safety standards. Under the pressure of environmental and public health advocates, including NCWP, the NYS Dept. of Health and Governor Cuomo enacted standards on July 20, 2020, setting a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 ppt for two of the most common PFAS (PFOA & PFOS) and 1 ppt for the emerging contaminant, 1,4 Dioxane. While these are among the most strict PFAS regulations in the country, the National Defense Research Council's research shows PFAS at levels as low as 2 ppt still having detrimental health effects on people and animals. NCWP and its allies will continue to fight for stricter protections, as well as the regulation of PFAS as a class - a group of nearly 5000 man-made chemicals that are virtually untested and used in consumer and industrial products everyday. PFAS can persist in the body for up to decades, giving them the name "forever chemicals". They are linked to cancers, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, decreased immunity, pregnancy and child development issues. NY State passed a law on July 23, 2020 to eliminate the use of PFAS in all food packaging which will take effect in 2023.

Newburgh Clean Water Project - Our Drinking Water
Newburgh Clean Water Project, PFOS remediation


In response to the Governor's announcement, Maureen Cunningham, Senior Director for Clean Water at Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY) states:

“This long-awaited first step puts New York on a path to cleaner drinking water. Establishing Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane will require all public water systems in New York to test for these chemicals and take action when elevated levels of contamination are discovered. However, recent science shows that there is likely no safe level of these chemicals, and the state MCLs must reflect this. Environmental Advocates will continue to urge the Department of Health to bring their MCLs in line with the most recent science during the public commenting period.” — Maureen Cunningham, Senior Director for Clean Water at EANY

According to EarthJustice, PFAS are a family of approximately 5,000 man-made organic chemicals that we come in contact with primarily through our drinking water. Leading government scientists have acknowledged PFAS cannot be regulated individually.

“[a]pproaching PFAS as a class for assessing exposure and biological impact is the best way to protect public health." — Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

City of Newburgh's Water Department

Under the direction of Water Superintendent, Wayne Vradenburgh, the City of Newburgh's Water Department has been hard at work securing temporary water sources, testing water quality, detecting and repairing leaks among its 75+ mile network, replacing lead pipes that run between older properties and the city's main lines, performing efficiency upgrades , and giving tours to educate the public. To find out about upcoming tours, join us on Facebook and subscribe to the City's E-Alerts.

City of Newburgh Water Department Tours
City of Newburgh Water Department Tour