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Although It’s Been Five Years Since Toxic PFAS Was Discovered In Recreation Pond At SANGB & Washington Lake – Almost 85x EPA Health Advisory Limit – No Permanent & Systemic Remediation Measures Have Begun

After Years Of Unremitting Advocacy, Including Securing Filtration System On Base, Reps Deliver Critical Next Step To Clean Up Toxic PFAS & Secure Health And Safety For Orange County Residents; Reps: This Is The First Air National Guard Remedial Investigation To Be Funded Under The Defense Environmental Restoration Program

Schumer, Gillibrand, Maloney: Getting Stewart ANGB Accepted Into This Federal Program is a Game Changer For Long-Sought PFAS Clean-up

After pushing to make the City of Newburgh’s drinking water a top concern in his first meeting with then-president-elect Biden’s Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary nominee, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, alongside U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) today announced that they have secured the next critical step in the PFAS clean-up process for Stewart Air National Guard Base (ANGB) and its surrounding communities in Orange County, New York – getting Stewart Air National Guard Base accepted into the well-funded and robust Defense Environmental Restoration Program, which the base was previously excluded from accessing.

The representatives said that this is the first Air National Guard Remedial Investigation to be funded under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP), for which they made Stewart eligible in Section 316 of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Previously, in 2017, under the Trump administration, all National Guard bases had been eliminated from the DERP clean-up program, something the representatives said was a wrongheaded policy move that greatly delayed comprehensive PFAS clean-up efforts at National Guard bases like Stewart., which Senator Schumer has continuously pushed for with the DoD’s top brass. The representatives fought to make sure that National Guard sites, like Stewart, would have access to clean up programs in last year’s annual defense bill. In previous years, Stewart and other National Guard sites were unfairly excluded. This funding will now be awarded by the end of September 2021.

In addition to providing funding for the remedial investigation, this new inclusion in DERP is beneficial for Stewart ANGB and its surrounding communities for several reasons. First, this new program gives the Stewart access to the Defense and State Memorandum of Agreement (DSMOA) program and therefore provides funds to regulators to expedite the review of documents. Specifically, when executed between states and DoD, this model provides for states to be paid for their review and other services provided during cleanup activities at DoD installations. This collaborative approach will streamline and speed up the clean-up process. Second, the current Resident Advisory Committee (RAC), including impacted community members, will now be classified as a Resident Advisory Board (RAB), which is critical in allowing stakeholders to access funding to cover administrative costs to better educate Orange County communities about ongoing remediation efforts. The RAC had previously requested this funding to cover administrative costs and the delegation was proud to deliver this change with today’s announcement to better serve the communities surrounding Stewart.

“Acceptance into the Defense Environmental Restoration Program is a game-changer for the effort to clean up the toxic PFAS mess at Stewart, and that is why we worked so hard to change the law to make it happen,” said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Almost five years since toxic PFAS chemicals were first discovered flowing from Stewart Air National Guard Base into the City of Newburgh’s drinking water it is high time we get a real plan, with resources behind it to clean-up thee PFAS and protect the public health for nearby Orange County resident. From day one, I’ve pushed DoD’s top brass to clean up the Air National Guard’s mess at Stewart and restore health, safety, and peace of mind to Orange County residents. I pushed doggedly for the creation of this fund so that Newburgh can finally become one of the federal government’s top priorities. It’s high-time that the federal government make long-term and meaningful efforts to clean up the mess they made, and as Majority Leader, I will make sure they do just that.”

“After almost five long years of fighting alongside the residents of the City of Newburgh and the surrounding Orange County communities impacted by dangerous PFAS-contaminated drinking water originating from Stewart ANGB, I am heartened that the DoD’s decision to approve the inclusion of the base in its Defense Environmental Restoration Program for cleanup will finally set this serious situation on the right track. From the moment we first discovered the PFAS contamination, I pushed fiercely with top leaders in the DoD to ensure Air National Guard bases like Stewart were able to access the funds and provisions necessary to combat this urgent environmental issue that not only affects the health and safety of thousands of Orange County residents, but the larger regional aquatic ecosystem. I will continue to fight to make sure that there is accountability in the remediation of PFAS at Stewart ANGB and that efforts are done in safely and expeditiously,” said Senator Gillibrand.

“We have been working towards this victory for more than five years. So far, we have successfully secured clean drinking water at no cost to local taxpayers and delivered free blood testing for residents,” said Representative Maloney. “Now, we are closer than ever to achieving our last order of business: ensuring DoD pays to clean-up the mess they made. This is a big win for our community.”

Senator Schumer has fought to secure this next step in the clean-up process announced today and brought the community’s concerns directly to then-DoD Secretary nominee, Lloyd Austin, urging him to make Orange County’s drinking water clean-up a top priority this past February. Previously, in November of 2020, Schumer also wrote to then-Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett calling for Stewart ANGB to move forward with this remedial investigation. In 2019, after the delegation secured over $2.4 million for the project, the USAF finally installed an interim filtration device on Recreation Pond, marking the first concrete step in stopping the PFAS from flowing off base and restoring safe, clean drinking water for residents.

In the fall of 2018, Schumer met with then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to urge the Air Force to rev up the pace of PFAS contamination investigations efforts. Schumer also successfully worked to include his amendment to provide funding for the Air National Guard to make payments to reimburse New York State and local water authorities for their ongoing remediation efforts and cleanup of PFAS contamination due to Air National Guard-related activities in the FY2019 Senate Defense Appropriations bill.

In July of 2018, after Schumer’s push, a report concerning the health effects of PFAS was finally released to the public, after its release was seemingly delayed because of political considerations. In September 2017, after Schumer’s urging, DoD immediately began their Site Investigation sampling which included Recreation Pond, another Schumer request, which yielded the highest concentration of PFOS according to the NYDEC’s original testing. In June 2017, during an in-person meeting with then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Schumer called on the DoD to participate in the remediation of toxic PFAS contamination. In May 2017, during a one-on-one meeting with then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Schumer called on the Air Force to pledge that they would prioritize the prompt remediation of the PFAS contamination at Stewart ANGB.

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are two types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of manufactured chemicals, and are persistent in the environment and resist degradation. These toxic chemicals are often used to manufacture products like fabric protectors, firefighting foam, and stain repellents. They are common primary ingredients in the firefighting foam that was used at Air National Guard bases for training and fire-suppression exercises, according to state regulators. Exposure to PFAS chemicals has been linked to certain cancers and other serious adverse health effects.