Press Release

Schumer, Gillibrand, Ryan Call On The Department Of Defense To Expedite Clean-Up At Stewart Air National Guard Base, Push For New Measures To Mitigate PFAS Contamination – Doubling Down On Years-Long Push To Clean Up Pollution In Newburgh And New Windsor

Dec 11, 2023

Schumer Has Led Charge For Years To Clean Up Stewart ANGB, Where Toxic PFAS Pollution Forced Municipalities Serving Tens Of Thousands Of Newburgh And New Windsor Families To Tap Different Sources For Reliable Access To Safe, Clean Drinking Water

Working Alongside Riverkeeper, Reps, In New Letter To DoD Push To Advance The Much Needed Clean Up Of PFAS

Schumer, Gillibrand, Ryan: Cleaning Up PFAS At Stewart Air National Guard Base Needs To Be A Top Priority For The DoD

Doubling down on years of advocacy to address PFAS pollution in Newburgh and New Windsor, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Representative Pat Ryan today launched a new push to get the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to expedite the environmental remediation and full cleanup of toxic PFAS at Stewart Air National Guard Base (Stewart ANGB).

The lawmakers, alongside Riverkeeper and local organizations, are pushing the DoD to prioritize the cleanup at Stewart and explore new measures to stop the ongoing pollution of downstream waters by PFAS from the base – while DOD works to fully implement a comprehensive clean-up plan as part of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) process.

“Our call to the Department of Defense is clear: expedite the PFAS cleanup and implement new measures to help protect our waterways from the ongoing threat of this pollution spreading,” said Senator Schumer. “From day one, I’ve pushed DoD’s top brass to clean up the Air National Guard’s mess at Stewart and we need more meaningful action to restore health, safety, and peace of mind to nearby Orange County residents in Newburgh and New Windsor. I want to thank the Riverkeeper and my federal partners, Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Ryan for their commitment to the restoration and protection of our waters in the Hudson Valley and beyond, and I promise to keep fighting to protect the public health and our environment from PFAS pollution.”

“The residents of Newburgh, New Windsor, and surrounding Orange County communities deserve to have access to clean waterways, free of the toxic PFAS pollution originating from Stewart ANGB,” said Senator Gillibrand. “For years, I’ve fought alongside the residents of the impacted Orange County communities to ensure there is accountability in the remediation of PFAS at Stewart ANGB, but there is still work to be done. Now, alongside Sen. Schumer, Rep. Ryan and Riverkeeper, we are calling on DoD to expedite cleanup efforts and implement measures to mitigate contamination and protect the health of nearby residents. I will continue to fight to make sure that all New Yorkers have access to clean, safe drinking water.”

“PFAS contamination is a grave threat to the health of our service members, our drinking water supply, and the entire Hudson Valley. Alongside the people of Newburgh and New Windsor, I’m calling on the Department of Defense to expedite the removal of these toxic chemicals immediately,” said Congressman Ryan. “I’m proud to work with Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, as well as Riverkeeper to make our community more safe. We can’t wait for DoD bureaucracy to eliminate PFAS contamination at Stewart, we need action now.”

A copy of the Representatives’ letter to National Guard Bureau can be found here.

Schumer, Gillibrand, and Ryan are working alongside Riverkeeper to urge the DoD to implement two steps recommended by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) and New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) to address the ongoing PFAS contamination in Newburgh and New Windsor. First, the Reps said the DoD should consider increasing the capacity of the Interim Storm Water Treatment System, which has the potential to reduce the number of weather-related bypasses, mitigating further PFAS contamination in the area. Second, the Reps said the DoD should evaluate slip-lining the stormwater pipes, which could both prevent PFAS contaminated groundwater from entering stormwater pipes and reduce the overall volume of water treated by the stormwater treatment system. The Reps said they are urging the DoD to work expeditiously and thoroughly to evaluate both these potential interim measures, while pushing for DOD to continue working at full speed on cleaning up the PFAS through the CERCLA process as this is the best way to truly ensure the people of Newburgh and the surrounding communities—including military personnel and their families—can recover.

Since the City of Newburgh and Town of New Windsor drinking water sources were affected by PFAS contamination, temporary measures have been put in place: Both communities have relied primarily on drinking water from New York City’s reservoir system. New York State has also installed filters to remove regulated PFAS chemicals at both public treatment plants and private wells in the region. Cleaning up the source of the pollution remains essential to any long-term solution.

 “Riverkeeper and our partners in Newburgh want to see the source of pollution eliminated, so local drinking water supplies can be fully restored,” said Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper’s Senior Director of Advocacy, Policy and Planning. “Riverkeeper is grateful to Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Congressional Representative Pat Ryan for supporting the call to ‘Speed Up the Cleanup’ of toxic PFAS chemicals at Stewart Air National Guard Base. Our thanks to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as well for starting the process to update key permits.”

“I wholeheartedly supports the accelerated efforts to address PFAS contamination, as championed by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Congressman Ryan, and echoed by vital community advocates like Riverkeeper, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, and the Newburgh Clean Water Project,” said Edward Lawson, Community Co-Chair of Stewart Air National Guard Base’s Restoration Advisory Board. “Understanding the profound impact this has had on Newburgh and New Windsor, we are deeply committed to a swift and comprehensive cleanup. The urgency of these groups in advocating for environmental health strengthens our resolve. We aim to implement robust and effective solutions, ensuring the restoration of safe and clean water resources for our communities and regaining their trust through our dedicated efforts.”

“Members of the SANG Restoration Advisory Board have been urging the site managers overseeing the cleanup at Stewart Air National Guard Base to initiate several recommended interim measures with little response and even a lesser sense of urgency,” said Jennifer Rawlison, Newburgh Clean Water Project Steering Member and RAB member. “We thank Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, and Representative Pat Ryan for their signing on in support of the “Speed Up the Clean Up” campaign to hold accountable the DoD in seeking timely and effective measures to reduce ongoing contaminated PFAS discharges and further protect the health and wellbeing of Newburgh & New Windsor families and our environment.”

“It’s been 7 years since PFAS contamination from Stewart Air National Guard Base was running off into the City of Newburgh’s drinking water supply. It’s more than time for PFAS discharges from the base to be stopped for good,” said Jen Benson, Environmental Action Director for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. “Clearwater values Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Congressional Representative Pat Ryan joining the call for an expedited cleanup of toxic PFAS chemicals at the Stewart Air National Guard Base.”

Over the past several years, Senator Schumer has fought relentlessly to advance PFAS cleanup activities at Stewart ANGB. In May 2017, during a one-on-one meeting with then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Schumer called on the Air Force to pledge that they would prioritize the prompt remediation of the PFAS contamination at Stewart ANGB. In a June 2017 meeting with then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Schumer called on the DoD to participate in the remediation of toxic PFAS contamination. Just a few months later, DoD immediately began their Site Investigation sampling, including Recreation Pond, which yielded the highest concentration of PFOS according to the NYS DEC’s original testing.

In July of 2018, after Schumer’s push, a report concerning the health effects of PFAS was finally released to the public, after the release was seemingly delayed because of political considerations. In the fall of 2018, Schumer met with then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to urge the Air Force to rev up the pace of PFAS contamination investigations efforts. Schumer also successfully worked to include his amendment to provide funding for the Air National Guard to reimburse local New York water authorities for their ongoing remediation efforts and cleanup of PFAS in the Fiscal Year 2019 Senate Defense Appropriations bill. In 2019, after the delegation secured over $2.4 million for the project, the USAF finally installed an interim filtration device on Recreation Pond, marking the first concrete step in stopping the PFAS from flowing off base and restoring safe, clean drinking water for residents.

In February 2021, Schumer brought the community’s concerns directly to then-DoD Secretary nominee, Lloyd Austin, urging him to make this clean-up a top priority. In November of 2020, Schumer also wrote to then-Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett calling for Stewart ANGB to move forward with this remedial investigation. More recently, Schumer and Gillibrand announced in May 2021 that they secured the next critical step in the PFAS clean-up process, getting Stewart Air National Guard Base accepted into the well-funded and robust Defense Environmental Restoration Program, which the base was previously excluded from accessing. Today, the reps continue to meet with DoD representatives on a regular basis, pressuring the agency to continue the cleanup effort as expeditiously and thoroughly as possible.

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are two types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of manufactured chemicals, and 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 the firefighting foam that was used at Air National Guard bases for training and fire-suppression exercises, according to state regulators. Exposure to PFAS chemicals has been linked to certain cancers and other serious adverse health effects.