Newburgh Declares State of Emergency After Chemical Found in Drinking Water

Perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, was found in Silver Stream and Washington Lake

Update: The state of emergency has been rescinded by City Manager Michael Ciaravino. Our coverage is here

A city in New York's Hudson Valley has declared a state of emergency after potentially harmful chemicals were found in one of its drinking water sources. 

Newburgh City Manager Michael G. Ciaravino says perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, was found in Silver Stream and Washington Lake.

The Newburgh water department is implementing emergency measures to reduce or eliminate PFOS, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation is working to track down and shut down the source, officials say. 

In the meantime, the city is no longer using Lake Washington as its source of drinking water until further notice. Newburgh will be getting its water supply from Brown's Pond and the Catskills Aqueduct in the interim. 

Because the city is using alternative water, residents are being asked to conserve water. Restrictions in place include: no serving water at restaurants except upon request, no watering lawns, no washing cars and no filling up swimming pools. The full list of restrictions can be found here. 

PFOS is classified as an emerging contaminant of concern -- emerging, the EPA says, because a new source or new pathway to humans has been discovered or a new detection method or treatment technology has been developed. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says some studies have raised concerns about potential developmental, reproductive and other systemic effects of PFOS -- including possible links to the grown of cancerous tumors -- but the agency cautions the studies were limited in scope and some were done only on rodents, so they didn't offer a conclusion for possible effects on humans. 

PFOS is a human-made substance used as a surface-active agent in a variety of products, like firefighting foams, coating additives and cleaning products. PFOS compounds resist typical environmental degradation, and migrate readily from soil to groundwater, where they can be transported long distances, according to EPA. The compounds can grow and accumulate in wildlife. 

PFOS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the U.S., but the EPA allows them in a "few, limited, highly technical applications" where no known alternatives are available. 

PFOS is readily absorbed after oral exposure, the EPA says. Potential pathways include consuming food -- like fish -- and water, use of commercial products or inhalation during long-range air transport. 

The EPA's guideline for health advisories on PFOS is 0.2 micrograms per liter. Ciaravino said the PFOS levels found in Silver Stream and Washington Lake were lower than that, the state DEC and Department of Health are still recommending that it be eliminated or reduced below that threshhold.

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