Clean Water Project tackles lead

Posted 2/3/21

The Newburgh Clean Water Project met for an hour-long session on Wednesday, January 27 to discuss the relaxation of rules regarding lead in water and the importance of an intersectional approach. The …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Clean Water Project tackles lead


The Newburgh Clean Water Project met for an hour-long session on Wednesday, January 27 to discuss the relaxation of rules regarding lead in water and the importance of an intersectional approach. The first meeting of the new year had guest speakers Gabrielle Hill, Michele McKeon and Ed Lawson.

Kicking off the meeting was Tamsin Hollo, member of the Newburgh Clean Water Project.

“At the beginning of the year when we were deciding what the first meeting would be about, we felt so overwhelmed by the multiplicity of issues that 2020 exposed for us – food insecurity, housing insecurity, toxic water in more than one way, polluted air, polluted soil,” said Hollo. “This is an invitation to work through all of these layers.”

The meeting focused not only on issues with the water, but an intersection of the aforementioned other aspects. Hollo described how “trouble comes in multiples,” which is why they invited McKeon who is from Newburgh Mutual Aid and Lawson who is the co-chair of the Restoration Advisory Committee.

“We want to see how they’ve been approaching the issues this year and learn from them,” said Hollo.

Hill, “a fifth generation Newburgher,” shared her personal experience with lead toxicity in her family in 1999. She explained that once she found a job she needed to find daycare for her daughter.

“There was a daycare on Liberty Street that would take her, but they required lead testing for my baby girl,” said Hill. “We did the test and the results came back a week or two later. I had already started my job.”

She received a call from the Orange County Health Department who said that her daughter had to go to St. Luke’s Hospital as soon as possible.

“They said if I didn’t get there within a certain amount of time they would have the police arrest me for child neglect,” said Hill.
Her daughter made it to the hospital and she had a lead level of 42 mcg/dL. Hill said that her daughter showed no symptoms and there would have been no way to know. Her daughter was chelated, which is a chemical process in which a synthetic solution is injected into the bloodstream to remove heavy metals and/or minerals from the body, for seven days. Hill was able to move into a “lead-safe house” that Orange County offered while she looked for alternative living arrangements.

“It’s an experience I’ll never ever forget,” said Hill. “There was a fear the lead would seep into her bones. I can’t even describe the feeling I had.”

Thankfully, Hill’s daughter is okay. The Newburgh Clean Water Project is currently taking the Environmental Protection Agency to court to combat the reduced standards of lead in water.

Sharmeen Morrison from Earthjustice said the lawsuit was filed mid-January.

“The lead and copper rule is high on the Biden administration list of rules that they’re reviewing and they are considering redoing anyway,” said Morrison. “It remains to be seen what will happen with the litigation with the rule but we are fighting hard for a more health protected regulation.”

Considering the intersectional approach of all of Newburgh Clean Water Project’s work, McKeon from Newburgh Mutual Aid, and who is also the Chief Operating Officer for RECAP, shared how the group stepped up during the pandemic in a myriad of ways. McKeon shared how they’ve helped deliver from the beginning of the pandemic and are continuing to do so now. They do 200 to 250 packaged meals a week out of the former ReStore on Washington Street.

“We want to make sure the basic needs of our community members are met,” said McKeon. “It’s foundational. If we’re talking about social determinants of health and equity around those things, we’ve committed not to let the system fail our community.”

Lawson from the Restoration Advisory Committee, which works with the Department of Defense and the National Guard to clean up the watershed and “address issues associated with environmental restoration activities,” was also on the call. Lawson is also the founder and president of Family and Community Engagement Services and he plays an active role in promoting President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge.

“We want to be able to activate the voices of the community,” said Lawson. “I want to use my experiences both at the federal level and local level to help do that.”

Lawson said he wants to help create “digestible language” that everyone can understand around the PFAs and lead situation in Newburgh.

“You have to do more than translate, you have to transcreate,” said Lawson. “Different cultures, different ethnicities, different vibes of people need to hear information in a way they can digest it and understand it. We can speak directly to the people that need to be spoken to and they can use that information and be activated to advocate for themselves.”

If anyone in the community has a lead-related health story they are willing to share, they can contact Newburgh Clean Water Project member Genie Polycarpe at If you want to know more information about the Newburgh Clean Water Project, visit