Res­i­dents tested for chemical ex­po­sure

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Esch

NEW­BURGH >> 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.

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 New York vil­lages of Hoosick Falls and Peters­burgh, 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.

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 U.S. 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.

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.

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.

MIKE GROLL — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This photo shows water in­takes at Lake Wash­ing­ton in New­burgh. Res­i­dents of the up­state New York city al­ready strug­gling with poverty and vi­o­lent crime are now be­ing told to have their blood tested for a toxic chemical. New York health of­fi­cials have of­fered blood tests to the 28,000 res­i­dents of New­burgh be­cause its water sup­ply was found to have high lev­els of the cancer-linked chemical PFOS that was used for fire­fight­ing at the nearby mil­i­tary base.

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