SCHUMER REVEALS: BUREAUCRATIC RED TAPE HAS HELD UP VITAL PFOS FILTRATION SYSTEM AT RECREATION POND FOR MONTHS; SENATOR URGES AIR FORCE, AIR NATIONAL GUARD & PORT AUTHORITY TO IRON OUT ISSUES—ASAP—FINALLY IMPLEMENT CRITICAL REMEDIATION MEASURES & START CLEANING UP THE MESS DOD MADE
After Brokering Agreement To Give Feds Access To Recreation Pond On Stewart ANGB And Install Filtration System, Schumer Learned Installation Is Still Being Delayed
Schumer Calls On Air Force, Air National Guard And Port Authority To Immediately Expedite Delayed Project Timeline, Starting With Immediate Approval Of Outstanding Contracts
Schumer: No More Delays Or Red Tape, Get Filtration Up & Working At Recreation Pond A-S-A-P
After helping the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) come to agreement on a Right of Entry Agreement (ROE) that had been impeding the installation of PFAS remediation measures, including a filtration system secured by Schumer from the Department of Defense (DOD), at Recreation Pond in New Windsor, a tributary of the City of Newburgh’s drinking water source, Washington Lake, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today demanded the U.S. Air Force (USAF), the Air National Guard Bureau (ANG) and PANYNJ to promptly submit for approval all relevant applications to expedite the approval processes needed to install the too-long-overdue filtration system.
Schumer explained that after learning that USACE and PANYNJ were at an impasse regarding the ROE, which was needed to allow USACE access to Recreation Pond, he cut through the bureaucratic red tape and brokered an agreement between the parties. However, once he then asked for an updated timeline for the installation of the filtration system, Schumer was informed that there were two other approvals further delaying the process: the Tennant Alteration Agreement and Dam Safety Plan. Schumer said that the residents of Newburgh and the surrounding communities have waited far too long to have their source of clean drinking water restored, and urged the USAF, ANG and PANYNJ to reach agreement on all outstanding approvals without any more delay.
“It’s now been over three years since we learned that the City of Newburgh’s drinking water source had been contaminated by PFAS, endangering the health and well-being of residents. The Air Force and Air National Guard said that their installation of filtration at Recreation Pond would take three to six months, yet here we are, approaching month ten and contaminated water still continues to flow off base. And even after stepping in and cutting through bureaucratic red tape stopping the installation of the desperately-needed Recreation Pond PFAS filtration system that is already funded and ready to go, we find out that it’s being delayed further still by more contracts and approvals,” said Senator Schumer. “Today I’m saying enough is enough. I am demanding that the Air Force, Air National Guard and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey work double-time to get these contracts signed and construction underway. Anything otherwise would be a dereliction of duty because restoring clean drinking water to Newburgh cannot afford to be put off any longer.”
After learning of further delays related to the installation of the filtration system at Recreation Pond, Schumer investigated and learned that a contractual issue was holding up the treatment system installation and that if the responsible entities did not act fast the project could be further delayed. Schumer explained that before any of the work installing the filtration system could begin, the USACE and PANYNJ first had to come to agreement on Right of Entry (ROE) contractual terms, which would give USACE access to Recreation Pond so that they could start up and commission their treatment system by October 29th. Upon hearing of these bureaucratic delays, Schumer stepped into the fold and helped broker a ROE agreement between the two parties, which he today announced has been signed by both.
However, ANG then told Schumer that installation was also being held up by lack of agreement surrounding a Tenant Alteration Agreement and Dam Safety plan, which is necessary under the USACE’s amended PFAS mitigation plan for the area. According to the agencies, the two agreements were submitted later than originally anticipated, and are now undergoing the review process by PANYNJ and NYSDEC, respectively. Schumer has urged both agencies to promptly review and approve the agreements, and argued that—given that it has been over three years since carcinogenic PFAS was discovered in the area’s drinking water—the can must not be kicked further down the road, and that the filtration system must be up and running as soon as humanly possible.
Schumer explained that over three years ago, it was discovered that the City of Newburgh’s drinking source, Washington Lake, near the Stewart Air National Guard Base in New Windsor, had been dangerously contaminated by PFAS. Schumer explained that the base’s use of firefighting foam caused carcinogenic PFAS pollution of Lake Washington and its tributaries, the predominant source of drinking water for the City of Newburgh. In March 2016, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) tested Recreation Pond’s water and found it contained certain PFAS contaminants almost 85 times the EPA health advisory limit, which likely came from the release of aqueous-forming foam from Stewart ANGB
Schumer has long fought to address toxic chemical PFAS contamination in New Windsor, impacting Newburgh’s drinking water. In December of last year, Schumer received a commitment from the DOD that the Air National Guard, working with the Army Corps of Engineers, would begin installing interim remedial measures to limit the further discharge of PFAS contamination, and this May secured a $2 million grant from the DOD for a filtration system on Recreation Pond. Last fall, Schumer met with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to urge the Air Force to rev up the pace of PFAS contamination investigations and remediation efforts. Schumer also successfully worked to include his amendment to provide funding for the Air National Guard (ANG) to make payments to reimburse New York State and local water authorities for their ongoing remediation efforts and cleanup of PFAS contamination due to ANG-related activities in the FY2019 Senate Defense Appropriations bill.
In July of last year, 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-U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Schumer called on the Department of Defense 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 USAF to pledge that they would prioritize the prompt remediation of the PFAS contamination at Stewart Air National Guard Base.
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.
A copy of Schumer’s letter appears below.
Dear Acting Secretary Donovan, Lt. Gen. Rice, and Mr. Cotton,
I write to once again express my significant disappointment and frustration at the slow pace of the Recreation Pond filtration installation process, as well as the poor communication and coordination with impacted communities about the details on the status of the filtration system and other elements of the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) investigation and clean-up process at the Stewart Air National Guard Base (ANGB) in New Windsor, New York. To rectify this situation, I strongly urge the United States Air Force (USAF), the Air National Guard (ANG), and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to promptly submit for approval all relevant applications—including the Tenant Alteration Application and the Dam Safety Plan—and to expedite the approval processes needed to install the too-long-overdue filtration system on Recreation Pond. As the prime entities responsible for this cleanup effort, it is incumbent on the USAF and ANG to shepherd all of the remaining agreements and applications through the approval process with all due speed. It is my sincere hope that all progress will be relayed by USAF and ANG to the impacted communities in a regular and timely manner.
In March 2016, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) tested Recreation Pond’s water and found it contained certain PFAS contaminants almost 85 times the EPA health advisory limit, which likely came from the release of aqueous-forming foam from Stewart ANGB. These numbers are deeply concerning on face value; however, they become downright appalling when understanding that Recreation Pond is a tributary of the City of Newburgh’s drinking water source, Washington Lake. This is why in December 2018, when I was informed that the ANG, under Department of Defense directive, would heed my calls and install a filtration system at the dam surrounding Recreation Pond and begin filtering water within 3-6 months of awarding a contract in February 2019, I was elated. However, it is now almost 10 months since that announcement and the filtration system is not running. More troubling, the installation of this filtration system, which is vital for the restoration of clean drinking water and public health, has not even begun. All the while, contaminated water continues to flow off base.
When my office inquired about the persistent delays, I was informed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the contractor for ANG on this project, and the PANYNJ were at an impasse regarding the Right of Entry Agreement to allow USACE access to Recreation Pond. After reaching out to PANYNJ, USACE, and ANG, calling for the agreement to be expedited, the agencies responded professionally and productively and the issue was resolved in a matter of days. Merely a few days later, after inquiring on the updated timeline, ANG informed me there were two other pending approvals standing in the way of installation: the Tenant Alteration Application and the Dam Safety Plan, necessary under the USACE amended mitigation plan. Both of these were submitted later than originally anticipated and are now under review by PANYNJ and NYSDEC, respectively. I am urging both to promptly review and approve these submissions to remove final barriers to action.
While I can appreciate the various agencies’ and the federal governments’ responsibility to adhere to certain standards of thoroughness in the approval process, the Newburgh and New Windsor communities have grown impatient with the failure to install and operate the Recreation Pond filtration system in a timely manner, and I share their frustration. The Air Force and ANG have now left impacted residents waiting for over three years to complete its investigation and install an interim remedial measure.
Again, the proper working of this system is critical to the removal of carcinogenic PFAS and to the restoration of the local drinking water system to a status that protects public health. Further delay is not acceptable, and all agencies must prioritize the achievement of this critical goal over bureaucratic prerogative and narrow self-interest. Therefore, I urge you to complete the remaining steps of the approval processes with all due speed and improve communication and transparency with impacted communities by publically releasing a new timeline which all stakeholder agencies will commit to adhere to. Please not hesitate to reach out to me or my office should you have questions or wish to discuss this matter further.