In the struggling city of Newburgh, New York, residents beset by poverty, high crime, and boarded-up homes now have an entirely new worry—that their tap water may have exposed them to a chemical linked to cancer. State officials have launched an ambitious effort to offer blood tests to Newburgh's 28,000 residents after the chemical PFOS—used for years in firefighting foam at the nearby military air base—was found in the city's drinking water reservoir at levels exceeding federal guidelines, reports AP. PFOS, or perfluorooctane sulfonate, has been linked to cancer, thyroid problems, and other health issues. Results of the testing, expected early next year, won't tell people whether they're actually at increased risk for any specific health problem, but will show how their exposure compares to others.
"The fact that I've been drinking that water for years, and my daughter's been drinking and bathing in it, that's shocking to me," says Stuart Sachs, an artist who moved here from Brooklyn 14 years ago. "My daughter is 11. What diseases is she going to have to look forward to? It's scary." In 2014, PFOS was detected in 175-acre Lake Washington, the city's drinking water supply, at a level 170 parts per trillion, well below the 400 ppt limit then recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency. When the EPA set a new level of 70 ppt for short-term exposure in May 2016, the city declared an emergency and shifted to a new water source. Free blood tests are being offered through Nov. 19 to any resident who makes an appointment at one of seven clinics.