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Maloney Calls on Department of Defense to Investigate Contamination of Newburgh Water

May 13, 2016
Press Release
Demands DoD Give Priority to Stewart Investigation, Take Part in Cleanup Efforts

Washington – Following the discovery of high levels of contaminants in Newburgh’s water supply, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney called on the Department of Defense (DoD) to immediately conduct an investigation into the likely source of the pollution – Stewart Air National Guard Base. In addition to calling for a review of the source of the contaminant, Rep. Maloney asked the DoD to ensure total remediation for the City of Newburgh.  

“Water is a basic right for all Americans regardless of where they live, how much money they have in their bank account, or the color of their skin,” said Maloney. “We can’t allow Newburgh to shoulder this burden alone, and our leaders in the DoD – including Secretary of Defense Carter – must take the necessary steps to get to the bottom of this issue and help us protect families and small businesses in Newburgh.”  

Last week, Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino declared a state of emergency following tests of Newburgh’s water, which showed abnormal, and potentially dangerous levels of the pollutant perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a chemical used in firefighting foams, sealants, and cleaning products. Subsequent tests showed exponentially higher levels of the pollutant in ponds near Stewart Air National Guard Base, which eventually drain into Washington Lake, the primary source of Newburgh’s water. DoD has used firefighting foams, which contain PFOS, for over 40 years. Earlier this year, the Department of Defense announced plans to test for groundwater contamination from firefighting foams  at hundreds of sites across the country.

After initial reports of contamination in the City of Newburgh water, Rep. Maloney and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calling for immediate assistance to determine the source of the contamination, test contaminant levels, and formulate a remediation plan.

The full letter to the DoD is as follows:


Dear Secretary Carter,

Recent testing of Washington Lake, the drinking water supply for the City of Newburgh, New York, found abnormally and unacceptably high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooc­tane sulfonate (PFOS) contamination. Follow-up tests showed extremely high levels of those contaminants in outfalls from nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base that discharge runoff directly into Washington Lake tributaries. As you know, PFOA and PFOS are frequently found in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which has been used by the Department of Defense to extinguish petroleum fires for over 40 years. Together, these facts strongly suggest Newburgh’s water supply contamination is coming from Stewart Airport and Stewart Air National Guard Base.

PFOS and PFOA contamination is not a problem unique to Newburgh. The United States military is currently conducting an extensive review of military bases to test for PFOA and PFOS contamination stemming from the use of AFFF. However, the danger this contamination poses to the drinking water of such a vulnerable and underserved community elevates the urgency for action to crisis levels.  

At this time, Stewart Air National Guard Base is not currently included in the military base review. I ask that you not only add Stewart Air National Guard Base to the scheduled reviews, I urge you to place Stewart at the top of the list. We must move quickly to identify the source of this pollution and get in action to stop the spread of contamination. Furthermore – I ask that you immediately engage with the community to take all steps necessary to invest in complete and total remediation.

I want to stress the urgency of action. We are running out of time. Newburgh has switched to an alternative source of drinking water, but that source will run dry in a matter of weeks. After that, the city will be forced to pursue options that will cost millions of dollars. Newburgh is a financially distressed city of nearly 30,000 people. Over one third of the population lives in poverty. Median household income lags far behind state and national averages. They cannot be asked to shoulder this burden.

In the United States, access to clean water is a right, not a privilege. Total systemic failures have denied my neighbors in Newburgh access to water. They deserve better. We must act, and we must act now.

Thank you for your service and I look forward to working with you on this.



Sean Patrick Maloney
Member of Congress