Making a Visible Difference in Newburgh, New York

By Cecilia Echols

Between 1782 and 1783, General George Washington’s headquarters was housed in Newburgh, New York, a community with a picturesque view overlooking the Hudson River. Today, the headquarters is preserved as a landmark, while parts of Newburgh struggle to reclaim and rebuild themselves from harder times. Many community members living in the urban sections of the City of Newburgh continue to make inroads and strides to improve their quality of life.

EPA employees prepare for the meeting.

EPA employees prepare for the meeting.

Last week, a unique and important meeting took place at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh. The City had to get the word out to discuss the issue of Perfluoroctane Sulfonate (PFOS), fluorinated organic chemicals, found in Washington Lake’s drinking water. Many people assisted in informing the public about this important meeting.

With “old school” boots-on-the-ground, door-to-door canvassing, emails and phone calls, “save the date” flyers, in English and Spanish, were distributed by the EPA, Riverkeeper and the 1199 Union, and area NGOs. The result of this extensive outreach effort – 250 concerned individuals showed up for the public meeting. Word of the meeting spread like wildfire!

The attendees drove, walked and carpooled. They came to the meeting strong, representing themselves as concerned citizens, as community-based organizations, as non-governmental organizations, as a local, state and or congressional staff, and just about every ethnic group you could imagine. They came committed to hear about the drinking water problem and solution. They asked questions to learn more about their drinking water, how it impacts them, their families and their community, and what they could do to help.

The speakers on the panel came from the City of Newburgh, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Department of Health, the Orange County Department of Health and Hudson and Riverkeeper.

The next public meeting to address the drinking water issue will take place on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at 7pm at the Newburgh Armory Center 321 William Street, Newburgh, New York 12550.  We hope to see you there.

To learn more about PFOS and PFOA:

About the Author: For more than 20 years, Cecilia has worked on some of the most challenging Superfund sites in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is a long-time EPA employee and a resident of Brooklyn.

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