New trou­ble in hard­scrab­ble town: Blood tests for chem­i­cal

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

In this chron­i­cally strug­gling city along the Hud­son River, res­i­dents be­set by poverty, high crime and boarded-up homes now have an en­tirely new worry - that their tap water may have ex­posed them to a chem­i­cal linked to can­cer. State of­fi­cials re­cently launched an am­bi­tious ef­fort to of­fer blood tests to New­burgh’s 28,000 res­i­dents af­ter the chem­i­cal PFOS - used for years in fire­fight­ing foam at the nearby mil­i­tary air base - was found in the city’s drink­ing water reser­voir at lev­els ex­ceed­ing fed­eral guide­lines.

“The fact that I’ve been drink­ing that water for years, and my daugh­ter’s been drink­ing and bathing in it, that’s shock­ing to me,” says Stu­art Sachs, an artist who moved here from Brook­lyn 14 years ago. “My daugh­ter is 11. What diseases is she go­ing to have to look for­ward to? It’s scary.”

PFOS, or per­flu­o­rooc­tane sul­fonate, has been linked to can­cer, thy­roid prob­lems and other se­ri­ous health is­sues. Re­sults of the blood test­ing, ex­pected to be re­leased early next year, won’t tell peo­ple whether they’re ac­tu­ally at in­creased risk for any spe­cific health prob­lem, but will show how their ex­po­sure com­pares to oth­ers. Sim­i­lar test­ing has been done in sev­eral smaller com­mu­ni­ties with water con­tam­i­nated with PFOS or its close chem­i­cal cousin, PFOA, which is used in non­stick and stain-re­pel­lent coat­ings. About 1,500 peo­ple were tested near an air base in Portsmouth, New Hamp­shire, and found to have slightly el­e­vated lev­els of the chem­i­cals. In the ru­ral vil­lages of Hoosick Falls and Peters­burgh, New York, where plas­tics plants are be­ing held li­able for PFOA in pub­lic and pri­vate wells, tests of about 3,000 res­i­dents that be­gan in Fe­bru­ary have found PFOA blood lev­els as high as 500 times the na­tional av­er­age. For New­burgh, about an hour’s drive north of New York City, a po­ten­tial health cri­sis was the last thing it needed. The city, which served as Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s Revo­lu­tion­ary War head­quar­ters, was hum­ming with ma­chine shops, cloth­ing fac­to­ries, ship­yards and brick­yards in the early 20th cen­tury. But in the 1960s, a slow de­cline be­gan af­ter a new bridge over the Hud­son River di­verted traf­fic away from the city’s com­mer­cial cen­ter. Fac­to­ries started shut­ting down or mov­ing to the new high­way cor­ri­dor out­side the city. Now the city is no­to­ri­ous for derelict aban­doned build­ings, drug gangs and vi­o­lent crime. In 2014, PFOS was de­tected in 175-acre Lake Wash­ing­ton, the city’s drink­ing water sup­ply, at a level 170 parts per tril­lion, well below the 400 ppt limit then rec­om­mended by the US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

When the EPA set a new level of 70 ppt for short­term ex­po­sure in May 2016, the city de­clared an emer­gency and shifted to a new water source.

Med­i­cal case man­ager

New York’s Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion has iden­ti­fied nearby Ste­wart Air Na­tional Guard Base as the source of the PFOS, sus­pect­ing the chem­i­cal, used for years in fire­fight­ing emer­gen­cies and drills, got into a stream lead­ing to the city reser­voir. Free blood tests are be­ing of­fered through Nov 19 to any res­i­dent who makes an ap­point­ment at one of seven clin­ics. But get­ting peo­ple tested in New­burgh presents spe­cial chal­lenges. More than a third of res­i­dents live in poverty and more than 46 per­cent of house­holds speak a lan­guage other than English at home. “New­burgh is a very poor city, and spe­cial recog­ni­tion has to be given to the fact that peo­ple who are re­ally strug­gling, re­ally at the edge, are go­ing to need ex­tra help get­ting out, learn­ing about it,” says Sachs, whose sculp­ture stu­dio is in one of New­burgh’s most run-down and crime-rid­den neigh­bor­hoods. “On my street, peo­ple have vaguely heard there was an is­sue with the water.”

New­burgh res­i­dent Dorice Barn­well, who works as a med­i­cal case man­ager, says she knocked on doors in her own four-story apart­ment build­ing and found no­body had heard about the blood-test­ing pro­gram, de­spite sev­eral pub­lic meet­ings and me­dia reports. She says in­for­ma­tion should be sent home with school­child­ren and posted at street corners, on buses and in shop­ping cen­ters. “We need to get this in­for­ma­tion out at all lev­els to ev­ery­one,” she says. “I per­son­ally sent out a mass phone text to ev­ery­one in my ad­dress book en­cour­ag­ing them to call the num­ber to sched­ule an ap­point­ment.”

Dr Nathan Graber, di­rec­tor of the state health agency’s Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Health, says his depart­ment is trans­lat­ing ma­te­ri­als into Span­ish and Cre­ole and en­gag­ing with the city’s re­li­gious lead­ers, school su­per­in­ten­dent and com­mu­nity groups to im­prove out­reach. Even though of­fi­cials have stressed blood tests won’t di­ag­nose spe­cific ill­nesses, some res­i­dents hope they will shed some light on nag­ging health wor­ries.

Tamie Hollins says her 18-year-old son’s sud­den death in 2010 was at­trib­uted to nat­u­ral causes, but now she won­ders if PFOS had any­thing to do with it. “I’m al­ways think­ing about this, try­ing to find an­swers about what hap­pened to my baby,” she says. “We were al­ways very health-con­scious and drank lots and lots of water, be­cause water is life, right? Now I won­der about that.” —AP

NEW­BURGH, New York: In this file photo, med­i­cal as­sis­tant Jen­nifer Martinez draws blood from Joshua Smith that will be tested for PFOS lev­els in New­burgh, NY. —AP pho­tos

NEW­BURGH, New York: Pedes­tri­ans walk along Broad­way in New­burgh, NY.

NEW­BURGH, New York: A sign points the way to blood test­ing for PFOS in New­burgh, NY.

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