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PFOS in Your Drinking Water

Lake Washington in Newburgh, NY.

For the past several months, you've probably seen PFOS in the local news. You may be wondering "What is it?" "Where did it come from?" and "Why should I care?"

Lucky for you, we're here to help.

So, lets start with the WHAT.

PFOS (short for "Perfluorooctane sulfonate") is a manufactured chemical that's used in all sorts of applications, from waxes to polishes to varnish, even helping as a stain repellent for fabric and upholstery. But, it's most noticeably been used in the firefighting foam that military airports use. If/ when a fire breaks out in an airport hanger, foam gets sprayed down from the ceiling to extinguish the fire. That's all well and good, except when the fire's out and the emergency is handled, that foam gets washed down the drain or off the runway. And when things get washed away, then tend to end up in the local streams and lakes.

Now for the WHERE.

If you're familiar with our neighborhood, Newburgh, then you're familiar with Stewart Airport. What you may or may not know is that Stewart is also an Air National Guard Base. Remember when I said PFOS is used in the firefighting foam? The New York State DEC has identified Stewart Airforce Base as the source of local PFOS contamination, where that foam has been used in both training exercises and actual fire response for years. In 2014, levels of PFOS were detected in Lake Washington, what was at that point the drinking water source for the City of Newburgh. Back then, the levels observed were well below the levels that were deemed safe by the EPA. Fast forward to May of 2016, and the EPA released a new study that drastically reduced the level that they deemed safe for PFOS. Suddenly those levels that they had been seeing for years far exceeded the new safe levels, and something had to be done about it. In June of 2016, the source of drinking water for the City of Newburgh was switched to the New York City Catskill Aqueduct, a water source that has been proven to be clean of PFOS.

The chart below shows the timeline of events and the PFOS concentrations that were observed in parts per trillion (ppt). This chart was provided from the NYS Dept of Health PFOS FAQ, located here.

So WHY should you care?

PFOS exposure has been linked to a myriad of health issues, including thyroid problems and cancer. The NYS Department of Health has been performing several in depth studies on the levels of PFOS that the citizens of Newburgh have been exposed to. Unfortunately, the study wont show if our community is at an increased risk of health issues stemming from PFOS exposure, but they will be able to compare it to other towns and neighborhoods that have been exposed. As of now, these studies are still underway.

If you live in the City of Newburgh, odds are good you are on city/ municipal water and, as previously mentioned, your water source has been switched to a clean aqueduct. So go ahead and take that shower or have your glass of water before bed, its ok.

HOW can we help?

If you happen to live in any of our neighboring towns, have well water, and are concerned about whats been going on, Optima is here to help. With the growing concern, Optima has extended our groundwater sampling analyses options to include PFOS. Staffed locally, our number one concern at Optima is the health of our environment and our neighbors, friends, and family (if you're reading this, that's you).

For more information, please check out the links below:

NYSDOH Frequently Asked Questions: Newburgh Area PFOS Contamination

CBS News; Contaminated water scare hits Newburgh, New York

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