Stewart’s Latest Firefighting Foam Spill
CORRECTION?: This week’s Firefighting Foam Spill story that indicated that foam from the Stewart spill was seen in the Otterkill at the edge of Washingtonville may have been incorrect given the distance and direction of Otterkill flow. SOME sort of unusual chemical foamy residue was seen there (and the person reporting it said they were not aware of the Stewart spill at the time). Nevetheless the concerns in the story are accurate according to the information we received during the week. Conflicting reports were also received, first that the foam at the spill (as seen above) was an AFFF (aqueous firefighting fluid), but a different than PFOS (there is a whole group of PFO’s). At last night’s Newburgh meeting with the public the Department of Defense said it was not an AFFF. Clearly, from the photo of the spill into Silver Stream shown above, the unusual foam had some sort of unnatural base. We regret if we added to the confusion.
By Edie Johnson
City of Newburgh officials reassured residents that another uncontrolled foam release last weekend at the Stewart AFB firefighter training site, due to equipment failure, will not put their drinking water at risk. But no one is presently heaving much of a sigh of relief since the thick foam discharged into Silver Stream and continued to travel through our waterways. DOD and DOH officials (Department of Defense and Department of Health) immediately claimed they were working diligently on cleanup, but did not address the areas where it flowed to the South. Unusual large amounts of odd foam were also seen at Twin Arch Road How the equipment failure happened has yet to be explained. Meanwhile, DOD and DOH officials were already scheduled to meet at Newburgh City Hall, and are meeting as we go to press. They are having a second meeting with the public later in the evening. On Wednesday Mayor Torrence Harvey said that scientists were still “diligently studying the makeup of the particular “AFFF” product involved in the spill.” AFFF is an acronym for Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a barrier that is often used in firefighting petroleum fires because of the tight molecular consistency which is effective in preventing fire spreading. A little farther look into the chemistry shows that there are a number of different “AFFF’s” and while the most problematic PFOS has been removed, the rest of the “family of PFO’s” (perfluorinated chemicals) are said to also contain the same tight molecular structure that takes a very long time to break apart. And that is how it causes health problems if ingested or absorbed. The exact chemical makeup of this spill has still not been disclosed, nor has there yet been an explanation of the equipment failure and failure to catch the spill.
A grant for $2.4 million is planned to be used for another new filtration system that will filter the water from Recreation Pond (where it goes when released from Stewart), and ostensibly remove any AFFF residuals. It is expected to be ready for use by the end of this summer). But a number of firefighting training sites elsewhere in the country which have experienced these kinds of problems have reportedly begun to use an entirely different firefighting material that assimilates the same technique, but without any toxic content. They also set up metal containers that can catch any runoff and then transport and dispose of any hazardous materials.
LATE UPDATE: Contrary to the earlier reports that Mayor Harvey had been told, i.e. that the spill was a different form of AFFF, last night Director of the National Guard Lt. General Leon Rice called the firefighting foam issue “a problem that is nationwide”. He then said that AFFFs are no longer being used at National Guard sites.
But what IS being used?