Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill into law that will phase out the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam in New York.
And, the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, prohibits the use of PFAS in firefighting foam across the country after Oct. 1, 2024.
Cuomo signed the bill on Monday to address environmental and drinking water contamination by per- and polyflouoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, used in firefighting foams that has affected multiple New York communities, including the City of Newburgh.
PFAS is a family of manufactured chemicals used in consumer products and industrial processes and are known for their resistance to degradation.
In 2016, high levels of PFOS were found in Washington Lake, the City of Newburgh’s former primary drinking water supply.
Since then, the state has continued to reimburse the city for water it now gets from New York City’s Catskill Aqueduct.
Studies attribute the Washington Lake contamination to firefighting foams used at the nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base.
Under the new bill amendment, the Office of Fire Control and Prevention may institute a regulation allowing for specific uses of the foam if PFAS-free foam is not available. Such an exemption has to be re-evaluated at least every two years and can be repealed if effective PFAS-free foams become available, according to Environmental Advocates of New York.
The bill takes effect 90 days after it’s signed into law. Assemblymen Colin Schmitt, R-New Windsor, and Jonathan Jacobson, D-Newburgh, and Sen. James Skoufis, D-Cornwall, co-sponsored the bill.
Schmitt recently went to Washington, D.C., to urge the federal Environmental Protection Agency to administratively ban PFAS-laden firefighting foam nationwide, according to a news release from Schmitt’s office.
Federal defense bill addresses PFAS
The National Defense Authorization Act contains several provisions relevant to the use, research and cleanup of toxic, manufactured chemicals known to have contaminated drinking water sources near military bases across the country, including in Newburgh.
In addition to the PFAS ban, other notable provisions include:
- Bans on uncontrolled release of fluorinated Aqueous Film-Forming Foam and the use of the foams in military exercises.
- Authorization for the National Guard to use Defense Environmental Remediation Account funds to address PFOS and PFOA exposure and contamination caused by Department of Defense activities at, and near, bases
- Sharing PFAS contamination data between DoD and communities and public water systems near military sites
- Requirements to report PFAS released into the environment to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory
- That EPA within a year publishes guidance for disposing and destroying PFAS materials and updates it every three years.
The DoD has held regular community meetings in the City of Newburgh to discuss remediation at the air base and a new PFAS filter was recently constructed at Recreation Pond at the Stewart base.
But there is still little information known about the direct health impacts for Newburgh residents who have had long-term exposure to the contaminated drinking water.
Newburgh will be included in an upcoming landmark study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that will evaluate the health of residents exposed to PFAS across the country.
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed their own versions of the 2020 NDAA earlier in the year and came together to produce the final version of the bill.
Some of the most stringent PFAS regulations were cut, including the designation of all PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund Law and EPA standards for PFAS in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act.