Putnam School District Sues Over Pollution

Chemicals found in well that supplies elementary

The Putnam Valley Central School District is suing nearly two dozen companies over the contamination of the well that supplies drinking water to students, faculty and staff at its elementary school. 

The lawsuit, filed on Dec. 21 in Putnam County Supreme Court, names 3M, DuPont and other firms that manufactured products containing polyfluoroalkyl substances. This class of chemicals is used in nonstick and stain- and water-resistant coatings, and in foams used by firefighters to suppress blazes caused by liquids like jet fuel. 

Their use has been associated with illnesses such as kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis and high cholesterol. The manufacturers have been accused of hiding the health risks.

School officials discovered the contamination in December 2020, when quarterly tests of the well revealed elevated levels of the two most widely used chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). 

The results, as high as 23.3 parts per trillion for PFOA and 38.3 ppt for PFOS, were well above the state’s drinking-water standard of 10 ppt for both chemicals. Fortunately, at the time of the results, students and staff were using bottled water instead of fountains because of the pandemic. 

The lawsuit, filed by Napoli Shkolnik, a New York City firm, traces the source of the contamination to the use of firefighting foams at the Putnam Valley Fire Department’s firehouses — one 4,600 feet from the school’s property on Oscawana Lake Road and the other 4.6 miles away. 

The school district, which in October approved an agreement to become a third high school option for Garrison School graduates, is seeking punitive damages and compensation for the costs of remediating the contamination and monitoring its drinking water supply. (Putnam Valley’s high school and middle school are on municipal water systems and unaffected by the contamination.)

“In order to ensure that it can continue to provide clean and safe water to its students, faculty and staff, Plaintiff will have to take action to address the above contamination,” said the district. 

The lawsuit comes two months after Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation that gives the owners of contaminated water supplies until April 5, 2024, to bring lawsuits that had been barred by a statute of limitations. 

Both New York State and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have in recent years lowered the maximum amounts allowed in drinking water. The EPA is also moving to designate PFAS as hazardous chemicals and a number of municipalities, including Dutchess County and the City of Newburgh, have sued the same companies over drinking-water contamination. 

Dutchess filed a lawsuit in 2018 after high levels of the chemicals were found in a well at the Hudson Valley Regional Airport in Wappingers Falls. In March the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced the start of an investigation into pollution from the chemicals at the county’s fire training facility in Hyde Park. 

In March 2021, the state Department of Health issued “do-not-drink” warnings for the middle and high schools in Dover in Dutchess County after high levels of the chemicals were discovered in their water system. The advisory is still in effect, and last month the district said that testing in September still showed levels well above the state standard. 

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