Newburgh’s Cutting-edge GAC Water Filtration System Tested
By Michael Lebron
CITY OF NEWBURGH – A packed house greeted the City of Newburgh City Council at their January 8 meeting this past Monday.
They came to hear Martin Brand, DEC Deputy Commissioner for Remediation and Brad Hutton, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Public Health at NYS Department of Health who presented “Lake Washington and the NYSResponse to PFC Contamination” with details of the new water filtration system that is scheduled to become fully operational in the coming months.
Over the last 2 years, the DEC has extensively tested Lake Washington and the watershed for a broad range of contaminants, specifically perfluorooctanesulfonate – or PFOS – and other related contaminants, including minor concentrations of PFOA and other perfluorinated compounds that were found to have leached into its watershed from a leak in a retention basin used by Stewart Air Base. The DEC says that no other contaminants of concern have been identified to date, but that NY State policy is to constantly monitor for environmental hazards. Hutton said “This system is designed to handle other contaminants as well.”
The system consists of 18 tanks, each with 40,000 pounds of granular carbon, and has multiple redundancies. It has been designed to filter out these contaminants to undetectable levels, “undetectable” being defined as 2 parts per trillion – yes, trillion, that’s not a typo – and it can produce 8.5 million gallons of water daily.
The Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) system has been designed by engineers under the oversight of the DEC and Department of Health to effectively treat Lake Washington water and provide clean drinking water for the Newburgh Community. It is cutting-edge, world class technology, and it is not unproven, having been used a number of times elsewhere. Nevertheless, the system is being rigorously tested and monitored to document its efficacy and to assure the public the system is working as designed. All testing results will be available to the public on DEC’s website and provided to the City.
Many residents and councilmembers voiced concern that the system’s performance will match the claims made for it, and were worried that there was a rush to implementation. Some preferred that Newburgh be kept on New York City’s Catskill Aqueduct, which it was placed on following the City Manager Michael Ciaravino’s emergency proclamation in May of 2016 – an action highly regarded by Newburgh residents. Some insist that the source at Stewart be rectified before putting the City back on Lake Washington, even though the DEC emphasizes that New York City needs to take the 100 year old Catskill Aqueduct off-line for repair before a secondary breakdown could cause yet another water emergency.
Anticipating these concerns, Mr. Hutton said that an equally important part of the program is an active campaign of information and transparency. Understanding that gaining public trust is an ongoing process, the DEC will be talking to the public on a regular basis throughout the process of getting the system online, possibly even conducting tours of the facility.
At the same time, the State plans to continue the blood testing program for any individuals who were exposed to the PFC’s in their water. The 3,000-plus who have already participated in the program will continue to receive testing: resultshave shown that the contaminants, having a half life of approximately 4 years, have already gone down in current participants. New people are encouraged to join the program (see link to Powerpoint with charts of testing results below).
PFOAs having been used in everyday consumer products, from Teflon in frying pans to the package liners in breakfast cereal products and even as preservatives in the cereals themselves. It is an endocrine disruptor, a class of chemicals that interferes with human hormone production of stem cell tissue. The disruption is thought to affect the nerve signals that the gut sends to the brain to tell it when to stop eating.
Background testing from 1999-2000 showed these contaminants to have been a national problem before it was brought under control. The science is new. The blood testing program in Newburgh reveals blood levels similar to this background testing, though not as severe as hot spots caused by industrial activities once found in states such as Ohio and Alabama. Firefighting foam no longer contains the contaminants which have been put on Hazardous Material lists.
PFOAs have been correlated with cancers, ulcerative colitis, birth defects and other health issues. As it can take years, and even decades for environmental toxicities to manifest themselves as disease states, and as much science needs to be done to better establish the causative links, liability can be a heavy lift. That said, the DEC and the DOH insist that they will do everything that they can to support the community and are here for the long haul. The unprecedented speed with which the State is getting such complex technology up and running is itself arguably a reflection of the State’s commitment.
Pursuant to listing the Stewart Air National Guard Base as a State Superfund Site in 2016, the state is using all legal authorities available through the Superfund program to hold the Department of Defense accountable for the contamination it has caused. New York has engaged the DOD at the highest levels to get them to step up and perform comprehensive investigations and reimburse the taxpayers of NYS for the response costs that have been expended, currently at $50 million.
And how will the water taste? Hutton said “Many of the same technologies that consumers put on their taps at home to improve taste are also included here.”
(Link to Powerpoint Presentation showing charts of blood test reviews, and the exterior and interior of new filtration plant provided by DEC)
(Photo Credits: Michael Lebron)