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By James McVey

Newburgh has been making a splash in the news recently regarding its water. The water supply has been contaminated, and culprit is none other than per – and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX and many other chemicals.

According to the EPA, PFAS are “very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time”; unfortunately, this problem will not evaporate anytime soon. These chemicals are quite ancient: Since the 1940s, they have been mass manufactured and used in many industries in both the United States and the rest of the world.

If only the situation was as easy to solve as not drinking the water. Back in 2016, the city of Newburgh stopped obtaining its water from the 1.3-billion-gallon natural reservoir of Lake Washington. This happened a few months following New York State beginning to regulate PFOA, identifying it as a hazardous substance.

August 2016 brought a switch to the Catskill aqueducts, which originates at the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County and is the same water that gets pumped into New York City. The financial burden of this switch was in part relieved by the State of New York.

The hardest part of the problem is all the ways PFAs can be ingested by people and all other life forms, such as plants and soil. Aside from drinking water, food is the next biggest fish to fry. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Commissioner Basil Seggos stated in a press conference back in July 2017, “PFOs has a greater affinity for protein.”

Despite this preference, PFOs are quite open to residing in myriad woodland creatures, aquatic animals, plants and even soil. They form a large component of products that deal with resistance to: grease, water or oil. We are drinking PFAs and eating them, potentially without being aware of their presence. If you have lived in the Hudson Valley for more than two years, you are potentially at risk.

The adverse effects of PFOs that are uncontested are higher cholesterol levels amongst individuals exposed, and tumors to animals who have ingested higher than average levels. More limited findings also point to: low birth weight, impotency, liver problems, weakened immune system, tumors, cancer, and a host of thyroid problems.

Currently, the city of Newburgh is using Brown’s Pond instead of the Catskill Aqueduct, while $1 billion is spent on maintenance and fixing a leak.

In response to this ongoing issue the city of Newburgh is filing a federal lawsuit against the US Air Force, Stewart International Airport, New York State and manufacturers of firefighting foam.

Citizens of the city of Newburgh have 19 micrograms of PFAs per liter of blood, which is three times the national average, as reported by a press release from the city government. It is believed to be much worse than this, since less than 10 percent of the city underwent blood tests, with little attention paid to groups of people who live elsewhere but spend considerable time in Newburgh, such as students of both Orange County Community College and Mount Saint Mary College.