Newburgh Hauled Into Court Over Toxic Water

A refurbished piece of 105th Airlift Wing history, an O-2A Cessna Skymaster display aircraft is parked behind a Dover AFB C-5M Super Galaxy undergoing interior refurbishment in 2014 at the 105th restoration facility at Stewart Air National Guard Base, Newburgh, New York. (U.S. Air National Guard photograph by Tech. Sgt. Michael OHalloran)

NEWBURGH, NY (CN) — Unaware before this summer that they have been bathing in, drinking and cooking with toxic water, dozens of Newburgh, New York, residents are fighting to file a late notice of claim.

The March 22 petition in Orange County Supreme Court comes seven months after state regulators bestowed ignominious Superfund status to the Stewart Air National Guard Base, just 2.5 miles west of Newburgh.

Overseen by the federal government, the Superfund program is designed to clean up sites of toxic waste. Lead plaintiffs Desiree and Robert Sampson say the base’s designation means that there have been “alarming levels” of the toxic chemical perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, otherwise known as PFOS, in Newburgh’s public and private supply wells since at least 2014.

Joined by 31 other current and former Newburgh residents, the Sampsons say Newburgh’s negligence exposed them to PFOS and PFOA, short for perfluorooctanoic acid, causing “severe and permanent personal, physical, emotional, and psychological injuries.”

Seeking leave for having exceeded a 90-day time limit to file claims, the residents note has nevertheless been aware of the facts underlying their claims within the 90-day period.

“In fact, the city of Newburgh was aware of the PFOS in the drinking water before any of its customers and will be in no way prejudiced by the four-month delay in filing the notice of claims,” the petition states.

There has been no prejudice either, the residents say, since their health statuses have not changed, and the contamination investigation remains ongoing, with officials taking citizen blood samples “to this very day.”

The residents are represented by Tate Kunkle of the Manhattan firm Napoli Shkolnik.

Attorneys for the city have not returned a request for comment.

Newburgh, pop. 28,000, is about 90 minutes north of New York City.

PFOS was detected in Lake Washington, the city’s drinking water supply, three years ago at a level of 170 parts per trillion, which at the time was below the recommended 400 parts per trillion recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA later set a new level of 70 parts per trillion, and Newburgh declared an emergency in May 2016, shifting to a new water source.

Officials have accused Stewart Air National Guard Base of using the chemical PFOS for years at in firefighting emergencies and drills.

Though city officials have reportedly asking the Department of Defense to take responsibility for the contamination and its cleanup, the Times Herald-Record quoted the Dod as claiming that its lease to the Department of Transportation for use of the Stewart Air Base property exempts it from having to repair damages to the property.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer told the Times Herald-Record that such a claim is “outrageous.”

Schumer has continued to push the DoD and the Air National Guard to assess the extent of the contamination and participate in cleaning it up.

Just last month, Schumer criticized a survey regarding the pollution.

A site inspection by the Air National Guard helped identify 13 potential release locations at the base, but Schumer said the remediation plan did not include off-base waterways that were contaminated as a direct result of the chemical release at Stewart.

Recreation Pond, for example, has continued to receive substantial amounts of PFOS from the airport drainage, Schumer said.

“The bottom line is that pollution like PFOS-tainted water does not stop at the base’s perimeter and neither should the Air National Guard’s pollution source survey and clean-up plan,” Schumer said in a press release. “The National Guard must step up to the plate and complete a more detailed survey that includes impacted waterways like Recreation Pond. In its current state, the plan is not comprehensive enough to fully address the breadth of this contamination.”

Schumer launched an unsucessful bid last year to amend the National Defense Authorization Act to require the DoD to launch an investigation.

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