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Federal defense bill signed into law addresses PFAS contamination

Pfc. Kingsford Asare, a Water Purification Specialist, 289th Composite Supply Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, shows an up-close comparison of water before and after purification at the Tactical Water Purification System site during Pegasus Forge IV on Fort Hood, TX, January 25, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Calab Franklin/TNS)

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, contains several provisions relevant to the use, research and cleanup of toxic, manufactured chemicals known to have contaminated drinking water sources near military bases across the country, including in Newburgh.

One of the most critical provisions addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination prohibits the use of firefighting foams that contain PFAS after Oct. 1, 2024.

Other notable provisions include:

bans on uncontrolled release of fluorinated Aqueous Film-Forming Foam and the use of the foams in military exercises.

authorization for the National Guard to use Defense Environmental Remediation Account funds to address PFOS and PFOA exposure and contamination caused by Department of Defense activities at, and near, bases

sharing PFAS contamination data between DoD and communities and public water systems near military sites

requirements to report PFAS released into the environment to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory

that EPA within a year publishes guidance for disposing and destroying PFAS materials and updates it every three years.

PFOS and PFOA are part of the family of PFAS chemicals known for its resistance to degradation and prevalence in consumer products, such as non-stick cookware, and industrial processes.

In 2016, high levels of PFOS were discovered in Washington Lake, the City of Newburgh’s former drinking water supply. The city quickly switched to New York City’s Catskill Aqueduct.

Studies linked Washington Lake’s contamination to firefighting foams used at Stewart Air National Guard Base.

The DoD has held regular community meetings in the City of Newburgh to discuss remediation at the air base and a new PFAS filter was recently constructed at Recreation Pond at the Stewart base.

But there is still little information known about the direct health impacts for Newburgh residents who have had long-term exposure to the contaminated drinking water.

Newburgh will be included in an upcoming landmark study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that will evaluate the health of residents exposed to PFAS across the country.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed their own versions of the 2020 NDAA earlier in the year and came together to produce the final version of the bill.

Some of the most stringent PFAS regulations were cut, including the designation of all PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund Law and EPA standards for PFAS in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a statement Friday he is continuing to push the DoD and Air Force to clean up the local contamination it caused.

“Although there have been many vital steps forward, such as the filtration system I secured on Recreation Pond .., the NDAA now taking important steps to guard against that contamination by funding clean-up efforts, there is much more work to be done to rid Newburgh of this toxic contamination, which is why I’m going to keep fighting with everything I’ve got to set a (maximum contaminant level) to clean up Newburgh’s drinking water once and for all,” Schumer said.


© 2019 The Times Herald-Record