Press Release

Gillibrand, Schumer Announce Authority To More Aggressively Clean Up PFOA/PFOS At Stewart, Gabreski Air National Guard Bases – And To Compensate Local Gov/Water Districts – Included In National Defense Bill That Just Passed Out Of Committee

May 31, 2018

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today announced that the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that just passed out of the Senate Armed Services Committee includes a provision to authorize the cleanup and safe disposal of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that have contaminated the Stewart Air National Guard base in the Town of New Windsor near the city of Newburgh and the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, and National Guard bases across the country.

This provision to the NDAA comes after an effort by the Defense Department attempting to force the National Guard to choose between funding training and maintenance and cleaning up the water supplies in their own committees, as well as a recent report that the Trump Administration was hiding information from the public about a study showing that these chemicals are dangerous at far lower levels than the EPA had previously said was safe. The Senators were able to get a provision into the authorization bill requiring a briefing for the Senate Armed Service Committee about this report. The NDAA now heads to the full Senate for a vote.

“No New Yorker should ever have to fear that their drinking water is going to make them sick. I’m very proud to announce that we are now one big step closer to finally removing PFOS and PFOA from the water supply in the Newburgh and Gabreski communities,” said Senator Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee“I was proud to fight to make sure this cleanup authority was included in the final NDAA that passed out of the committee, and I will continue using every power I have as a Senator to make sure this is included in the final bill so that the necessary cleanup job gets done quickly and thoroughly. We have an obligation to ensure that our waterways are safe and clean.”

“Communities across New York deserve safe drinking water – and they should not be forced to pay for costs to clean it up when others, like the Department of Defense, pollutes it. That is why it was vital to secure this provision and help address PFOS-PFOA contamination – and the costs local entities incur in response to it – in Newburgh, near Gabreski and beyond,” said U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. “The inclusion of this authorization for better clean up response and compensation is a key first step in bringing some relief to impacted communities.  And while it is clear that more work needs to be done to fully address the scope of this contamination, New Yorkers can rest assured that I will continue to  fight tirelessly in Washington until all New Yorkers have the clean water they need, and those responsible for this unacceptable contamination foot the bill – not local and New York taxpayers.” 

Specifically, this provision does the following:

  • Provides authorization for the secretaries of the services to provide funding for the treatment of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water from wells owned and operated by a local water authority undertaken to attain the lifetime health advisory level for such acids in drinking water;
  • Provides the National Guard Bureau access to Defense Environmental Restoration Account so that it does not have to rely on Operation & Maintenance (O&M) funds to make these types of payments;
  • Authorizes increased appropriations of $10M of additional Army, Navy, Air Force O&M and $15M for National Guard O&M.

PFOA and PFOS are part of a diverse group of chemicals, collectively known as perfluoroakyl substances (PFAS),that are persistent in the environment and resist degradation. These toxic chemicals are often used to manufacture products like fabric protectors, firefighting foam, and stain repellents. They are common primary ingredients in firefighting foam that were used at the Stewart Air National Guard base near the City of Newburgh and the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach for training and fire-suppression exercises, according to state regulators. This has led state regulators to suspect the foam as the cause of the groundwater contamination in the City of Newburgh and Westhampton Beach. These chemicals are linked to certain cancers and other serious adverse health effects.

Gillibrand and Schumer successfully secured funding in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act for restoration and mitigation efforts at National Guard and Reserve installations to remediate PFOS and PFOA contamination. Gillibrand also signed a letter requesting funding for the CDC study she helped get into the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act to conduct a public health assessment of affected sites.

This provision to the NDAA also follows recent reports that the Trump administration was hiding information from the public about a study showing that PFAS are dangerous at far lower levels than the EPA had previously said was safe. Senator Gillibrand and Minority Leader Schumer, along with nine of their colleagues, sent a letter last week to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt demanding answers about the reported cover-up.