SCHUMER: DEPT. OF DEFENSE MUST AGREE TO REIMBURSE MILLIONS IN LOCAL TAXPAYER MONEY TO SUFFOLK COUNTY AND WATER AUTHORITY FOR COST TO REMEDIATE PFOS CONTAMINATION AT GRABESKI; DENYING PAYMENT IS TIRED TACTIC TO EVADE RESPONSIBILITY FOR CLEANUP—AND IT ONLY HURTS LOCALS, WHO WOULD BE ON HOOK FOR MILLIONS OF DOLLARS
Schumer Says Suffolk County Gov’t and SCWA Have Already Paid for Filtration, Bottled Water & More for Local Residents Impacted by Contamination; DOD Initially Agreed to Pay for Cleanup But Delays, Unwarranted DOD Intransigence & Local Unease Prompt Schumer Call To Action
Senator Continues To Hold U.S. Air Force Accountable For The Swift Remediation Of Toxic PFOS Mess At Gabreski Air National Base; Failure to Pay Will Waste Local Taxpayer Dollars
Schumer: DOD Is Responsible to Clean-up PFOS Mess at Gabreski & They Should Pay Suffolk County Right Now
On the heels of inaction, cynical legal tactics and intransigence by the Department of Defense---and local unease--- as it relates to reimbursing Suffolk County for millions in local taxpayer money used to remediate PFOS contaminates at Grabeski, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, today, made a new push and called upon the Department of Defense (DOD) to deliver those millions of dollars in reimbursement---ASAP---to Suffolk County for the cleanup and other costs related to remediating PFOS contamination at Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base and Airport.
“I’ve said it before and I will say it again: every day that Suffolk County waits for this reimbursement is a day too many,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “The Air National Guard is responsible for the clean-up of the toxic mess at Gabreski Airport and they should be the ones who pay to clean it up – now – not later. It’s troubling and unacceptable to know that the feds are trying to wiggle away from their duty to reimburse millions for the cost of Suffolk County’s remediation efforts and that’s why I’m making a new push for DOD to deliver payment to the county. It is simply not fair to leave local taxpayers and ratepayers on the hook for the clean-up and related costs that they were forced to take on as a result of toxic PFOS pollution at the base. These costs cannot and should not be on the backs of locals. The Department of Defense and the Air National Guard must step up to the plate and negotiate compensation to Suffolk for costs they have already incurred because a failure to pay just cannot stand.”
Schumer is urging the Air Force, National Guard Bureau, and DOD to immediately negotiate payment for all previous costs Suffolk County and the Suffolk County Water Authority have incurred related to this contamination, and to also work with all relevant stakeholders to develop and fund a remediation plan.
Since the 1970s, Gabreski Airport, in Suffolk County, has been subject to a dangerous, toxic chemical known as PFOS, which is present in firefighting foam and other sources. Groundwater monitoring wells have detected extremely high levels of PFOS in groundwater near the airport, levels which surpass the health advisory level established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Thus, the airport was declared a state Superfund site in 2016, and the DOD has been identified as a responsible party for the PFOS contamination. Schumer is rejecting the DOD’s effort to use what he called, “cynical legal tactics” to step back from its commitment to pay for and respond to the devastating contamination, and is urging the department to immediately develop and fund a remediation plan for the area.
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is a toxic chemical often used in the manufacturing of products like fabric protectors, firefighting foam and stain repellents. According to the EPA’s March 2014 “Emerging Contaminants – Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)” report, PFOS chemicals are no longer allowed to be manufactured in the United States. PFOS is also an ingredient in firefighting foam that had been used at the Gabreski Air National Guard base in training and fire-suppression exercises, according to state regulators, which suspects the foam to be the cause of the groundwater contamination. Suffolk County officials have said that PFOS-containing foam has been used at the airport since the 1970s. According to recent reports, the Suffolk County health department installed four groundwater monitoring wells south of the airport, and three of the four have tested positive for PFOS.
The EPA has set a health advisory level of 0.07 parts per billion for PFOS — a level over which action to avoid exposure is recommended. According to media reports, preliminary data from one of the monitoring wells found levels of PFOS at 14.3 parts per billion. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) declared the base a state Superfund site in September 2016 and identified the DOD as the potentially responsible party for the nearby PFOS contamination.
Last July, along with Senator Gillibrand, Schumer called on the Air National Guard to help fund a remediation plan and agree to fully-compensate home and business owners negatively impacted by PFOS pollution from the base. Following their push, the National Guard Bureau acknowledged that a Preliminary Assessment of PFC contamination at Gabreski Air National Guard Base had identified 18 potential PFC release locations upgradient of monitoring wells where contaminants were discovered. Based on this study, the National Guard Bureau determined that a release of PFCs from the Gabreski Air National Guard base had occurred and was a contributor to PFC contamination in Suffolk County drinking water production wells. At this point, the Bureau made a commitment to work alongside the Air Force in partnership with Suffolk County to ensure safe, alternative drinking water would be provided to private well owners and customers of the SCWA. As a result, SCWA invested over $4.8 million in local funds for filtration systems, laboratory sampling, and the installation of water mains for hooking up 12 homes that had contaminated private wells. Additionally, SCDHS invested over $491,380 for a private well survey groundwater investigation which included the installation of four groundwater profile wells, non-PFC laboratory analytical services, provision of bottled water, community outreach and administrative and legal services.
Schumer explained that recent actions by the DOD – both here at Gabreski and at Newburgh Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, which also suffers from PFOS-contamination – demonstrates an intent to step back from its commitment to respond to and pay for this contamination. Schumer noted that a similar action involving cynical legal tactics to evade legal and financial responsibility was taken by DOD while negotiating with New York State towards the remediation of the area surrounding Stewart Air National Guard Base in New Windsor, New York. Schumer today said that DOD’s previous actions at Stewart ANG Base and now current actions at Gabreski ANG Base represent a troubling pattern emerging from DOD regarding its intentions to seek indemnity for any possible liability related to the release of PFCs from Air National Guard related activities. Schumer says that this is a completely unacceptable course of action for the DOD to pursue. Therefore, Schumer is urging the Air Force, National Guard Bureau, and DOD to immediately negotiate payment for all previous costs Suffolk County and the Suffolk County Water Authority have incurred related to this contamination, and to also work with all relevant stakeholders to develop and fund a remediation plan.
A copy of Schumer’s letter is below:
Dear Mr. Hartley,
I write to express my deep concern about correspondence from the Department of Defense (DOD) that suggests an intent to foot-drag, delay or evade its commitment to respond to contamination near Gabreski Air National Guard (ANG) Base located in Westhampton Beach on Long Island’s South Shore.
It has come to my attention that while Suffolk County and the National Guard Bureau were negotiating cooperative agreements to respond to the release of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) into private and public water supply wells, a moratorium was put in place so that the DOD can explore avenues to indemnify itself and its departments. A similar action involving cynical legal tactics to evade legal and financial responsibility was taken by DOD while negotiating with New York State towards the remediation of the area surrounding Stewart Air National Guard Base in New Windsor, New York and I was critical of DOD’s actions in that instance as well.
DOD’s previous actions at Stewart ANG Base and now current actions at Gabreski ANG Base represent a troubling pattern emerging from DOD regarding its intentions to seek indemnity for any possible liability related to the release of PFCs from Air National Guard related activities. Simply put, this is a completely unacceptable course of action for the DOD to pursue. The Air Force, National Guard Bureau, and DOD as a whole, must continue to work with all relevant stakeholders to develop and fund a remediation plan and reimburse municipalities for costs incurred that are related to the release and cleanup of the released contaminants. The brunt of these remediation costs cannot fall on local governments or taxpayers who did not cause this issue. I urge you to immediately intervene for the benefit of the impacted communities.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer
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