DoD, state tangle over water contamination reimbursement

State spending in response to the toxic chemical contamination that has poisoned the City of Newburgh’s primary water supply and private wells in the towns of Newburgh and New Windsor is $25 million and estimated to grow by another $26 million.

What may be shrinking, however, is the state’s chances of recouping any of that money from the U.S. Department of Defense, which is being held responsible for releases of the toxic chemical from Stewart Air National Guard Base.

On Wednesday a DoD spokesman confirmed what had been reported Tuesday in a Long Island newspaper – that the department will not reimburse for “past expenditures” related to contamination at Stewart and Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach.

In response, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health issued a joint statement saying they are “deeply concerned that DoD continues to shirk their responsibility.”

“DoD must follow the ‘polluter pays’ principle, and we will carefully review this advisory and forthcoming guidance and take any necessary actions to ensure the state and our communities are not left footing the bill for the actions we took to protect residents from DoD contamination,” according to the statement.

The costs have added up.

  • The amount set aside for Newburgh’s purchase of New York City water: $11.5 million.
  • Municipal hookups for contaminated private wells: $700,000
  • New water treatment plant for Newburgh: an estimated $15 million.

Added to the nearly $24 million spent by DEC is the $1 million spent by DOH to test approximately 3,000 residents in the City of Newburgh and the surrounding towns exposed to perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS. Testing is ongoing.

The DEC is “contractually obligated” to spend another $26 million, according to the statement.

Used in consumer products and in firefighting foams at military bases, PFOS is associated with kidney and testicular cancers, high cholesterol and other health problems.

The toxic chemical forced the closure of Washington Lake, Newburgh’s primary water supply, in May 2016, and led to the designation of Stewart Air National Guard Base as a Superfund site.

On Long Island, private wells near Gabreski have been contaminated with PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid. Also known as PFOA, it is from the same family of chemicals as PFOS and also used in firefighting foams.

Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health, has advised that the Air National Guard will be allowed to negotiate “cooperative agreements” regarding Stewart and Gabreski, DoD spokesman Adam Stump said.

Those agreements will cover what costs the military will absorb, but past expenses are “not authorized” Stump said. Those expenses are ones incurred before the agreements are signed, he said.

“This involves collaborative discussion on future mitigation activities,” Stump said of the agreements. “Reimbursement for past expenditures are not authorized.”

On Friday U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer visited Suffolk County to demand that DoD reimburse the county for more than $5 million it has spent on contamination from Gabreski, which was also added to the state’s Superfund list.

Schumer has also repeatedly called on DoD to reimburse the state for its Stewart-related expenses.

“Senator Schumer will press DoD to compensate local communities and New York state for all clean-up related expenses – past, present and future,” Jason Kaplan, a spokesman for the senator, said on Wednesday.

source: Record Online