Press Release

Schumer, Gillibrand, Maloney Call On EPA To Provide Immediate Assistance To Help City Of Newburgh Comprehensively Test Water For PFOA-Related Contamination; Say EPA Experts Should Help Newburgh To Identify Sources- And Develop A Plan To Eradicate Any Threats

May 4, 2016

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, today called on the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) to immediately provide testing and planning assistance to the City of Newburgh, where two bodies of water were found to contain a highly-toxic chemical, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney also called on the EPA to finally publish their promised new standards for the related chemical, PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid), which they previously promised to publish “by spring.” According to several news reports, the city detected perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in both Silver Stream and Washington Lake. PFOS and PFOA are both perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) that have been produced for the manufacturing of a wide variety of commercial and consumer products. Both chemicals are extremely persistent in the environment and resistant to natural environmental degradation. The toxicity and bioaccumulation potential of PFCs can pose a serious risk to human health, which is why this is EPA must act quickly to determine the source of contamination.

Therefore, Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney  explained that these bodies of water – as well as their sources – should be immediately and comprehensively tested by the EPA to see where the problem exists and how it can be mitigated. In addition, The federal representatives are urging the EPA to use its world-class technical expertise to work hand-in-hand with the city and the community of Newburgh and the state of New York in any way it can, including testing the water as a starting point, and then providing a path to remediation.

“We need to make sure residents in the City of Newburgh have water that is safe for their families and children to drink, and the EPA has the expertise and resources when it comes to testing for PFOS pollution and devising clean-up plans. That is why I am calling on the federal EPA to step up to the plate and get all hands on deck to help the community and state regulators to test this water, identify the source and extent of the contamination, and move forward with ways to remediate any contamination. We need the EPA send their resources and contamination experts here as soon as possible to work with the city and state to develop a plan and prevent any future contamination,” said Senator Schumer.


“Families in the City of Newburgh have the right to know that their drinking water is free of toxic chemicals like PFOS,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The EPA must work with city and state officials to test the local water and create a clean-up plan as soon as possible to protect public health. I’m pushing for the EPA to take steps to immediately address this situation and prevent further contamination.”


“Our families deserve to know their drinking water is safe – my office is in Newburgh and I know how scary it is to find out your water may contain dangerous chemicals. We need to address the water contamination in Newburgh immediately, which is why I’m calling on the EPA to work with state and local officials to find out the source of this contamination, devise a remediation plan and make sure our drinking water is safe and clean,” said Rep. Maloney.  


The lawmakers explained that, while Newburgh’s levels are below the EPA’s current standards, the city is doing this in an abundance of caution for its residents and businesses. Moreover, it is possible that when EPA publishes its new, tougher PFOA standard, which was promised “by spring,” the City may well fall below that new threshold, so Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney called on EPA to immediately publish that eagerly-awaited new standard.


“The EPA must publish its new PFOA standard – yesterday,” said Schumer continued. “They promised to do it by spring, and here we are in May. Newburgh leaders and residents have expressed sincere concern over the potential emergence of the chemical in drinking water sources and clear guidance from the federal government is needed to map out the best plan of action for the local community that best protects public health and the drinking water.”


Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney explained that perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is a man-made fluorosurfactant and global pollutant. Fluorosurfactants are synthetic chemical compounds that are often used in the manufacturing of products like fabric protectors and stain repellents because they are seen as effective at lowering the surface tension of water. While this chemical can be found in nature, high levels can be dangerous to humans. According to the EPA’s March 2014 “Emerging Contaminants – Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)” report, PFOS chemicals are no longer allowed to be manufactured in the U.S. However, the EPA does allow for the continuation of a few, limited, highly technical applications of PFOS-related substances where no known alternatives are available. As a result, Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney said it is critical the City of Newburgh find out the source of this contamination. According to the EPA’s 2014 report, chronic exposure to PFOS and PFOA has led to the development of tumors in the liver of rats. However, more research is needed to determine if there are similar cancer risks for humans.  


The lawmakers said that the EPA’s technical expertise and experience in dealing with water contamination could better provide needed support to the City of Newburgh and could better help the community understand the full scope of water contamination. Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney said once this contamination is better understood, through testing, the subsequent remediation can commence as quickly as possible. Schumer, Gillibrand and Maloney said this peace of mind is desperately needed in the community, as protecting the health of residents, businesses and agriculture within the city is of the utmost importance.


A copy of Schumer, Gillibrand, and Maloney’s letter to the EPA appears below:


Dear Administrator Gina McCarthy:


Following the recent discovery by the City of Newburgh, New York of Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) contamination in two local bodies of water, I write to urge the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) to use its technical expertise to quickly assist the community in testing their water for PFOS contamination. I urge the EPA to assist Newburgh in determining the source of this PFOS contamination, and to help them devise a remidiation plan. In addition, it is critical that EPA releases an updated safety standard for PFOA and PFOS immediately, as the EPA has promised it would do so by Spring of 2016.  


In light of the recent news that the city has declared a water emergency due to the detection of elevated levels of PFOS in both Silver Stream and Washington Lake, I am requesting that EPA use their experience and resources to expeditiously help the community test all relevant water within the community and water system to help identify the extent of the contamination and determine its source.  


Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is a man-made chemical that was commonly used in a wide variety of commercial and consumer products. PFOS is extremely persistent in the environment and resistant to natural forms of environmental degradation. The toxicity and bioaccumulation potential of PFOA can pose a serious risk to human health, which makes it presence in two Newburgh water bodies most concerning. This high level of contamination must be remediated as soon as possible in order to ensure the health and safety of the community. With the EPA’s technical expertise and experience in dealing with drinking water contamination, I request that you immediately provide technical support to help the community investigate the full scope of the problem and assist with subsequent remediation as quickly as possible.   

This development has cast considerable concern and created great uncertainty for the Newburgh community, with the potential impacts ranging from human health to the local economy. It is imperative the this uncertainty be quickly addressed by quickly identifying the scope of the problem and speedily implementing an effective remediation plan.

Again, I thank you for your work in protecting our nation’s health and the quality of our drinking water.  Thank you for your attention to this important request.




Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator


Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator


Sean Patrick Maloney

Member of Congress