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Jan 3, 2019 4:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

State Finds High Concentrations Of Chemical Pollution At East Hampton Airport

The State Department of Environmental Conservation has identified four areas of concern, shown in red, that have very high levels of the chemicals PFOS and PFOA beneath them and may be the sources of contamination that has spread throughout Wainscott.  COURTESY DEC
Jan 8, 2019 12:46 PM

After a months-long investigation, the State Department of Environmental Conservation issued a report last week saying that it has found four areas on the East Hampton Airport property with very high levels of the chemical contaminants found in well water throughout the southern portion of Wainscott.

In two of the locations, the levels of PFOS, one of the two chemicals found, were four times the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion—a bar that has itself been criticized as being many times higher than a dose that may actually pose health concerns.

The two sites of highest concentration were found on the airport facility itself, where plane crash response training drills have been held, according to the DEC report issued Thursday, January 3.

The highest concentration, 290 parts per trillion of PFOS, was at a location on the eastern side of the facility, near the airport terminal, where mass casualty drills have been held in the past.

The second-highest concentrations were found under a cleared area at the northern end of one of the airport’s secondary runways, where the DEC report says training drills were staged.

The state also tested more than a dozen other locations, including the sites of a small plane crash at the north end of the airport and a car fire on the airport tarmac, in which the firefighting foam containing the contaminants were or may have been discharged.

Two other sites had concentrations of the chemicals that were more than double the EPA health threshold. Both sites are properties on Industrial Road, on the southern boundary of the airport property, and are owned by East Hampton Town and leased to local police and fire departments. One is a training facility where fire departments stage simulated fires for training. The other is a storage depot that the DEC report says does not appear to have been used for drills but may have held supplies of firefighting foam.

The DEC contractors who conducted the studies did dozens of test borings around the property to get soil and groundwater samples from up to 45 feet below the surface and tested for 21 different chemicals that belong to the group of chemicals known as PFAS.

A total of six of the water samples taken showed contamination levels of PFOS above the EPA health advisory level, and tap water from private hangars on the property showed contamination, albeit at levels well below the EPA health advisory level.

The DEC report recommends significant additional testing to identify the exact extent of the contamination at the four sites. But the levels of chemical contamination discovered indicate that the town-owned airport could be a point-source for the contamination that has flowed into the groundwater running southward from the airport.

“DEC’s site characterization for the East Hampton Airport site revealed four distinct areas of concern where additional study is needed to fully delineate the nature and extent of the identified contamination,” said Michael Ryan, director of the DEC’s Division of Environmental Remediation. “This study will help inform appropriate cleanup measures and further DEC actions.”

The DEC has also designated the neighboring Wainscott Sand & Gravel property as a site with potential additional contamination, because another mass casualty drill was held there in June 2000, and it is working with the owners to establish a similar testing protocol and investigation to what was done on the airport property over the last year.

“We are in a wait-and-see position at this point for the DEC to determine whether this a concern or not, and I think it’s going to take some time to come to any significant conclusions,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said. “The important thing is that the town responded very quickly and effectively to alleviate the concerns regarding drinking water in Wainscott by providing residents with clean public water.”

The state tested the airport property for 19 PFAS chemicals. Just two of those, PFOS and PFOA, have any kind of health concern advisory attached to them. The two chemicals are classified as “emerging” contaminants, because the extent of contamination, their various characteristics in the environment and the health concerns they may pose are still in the early stages of scientific analysis, and the chemicals are generally not controlled by regulatory agencies. The EPA states, officially, “There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.”

Even though health concerns have been discussed for more than a decade—enough that most major chemical manufacturers changed their formulas to eliminate the chemicals’ use—New York and most other states in the country do not regulate the presence of PFOS and PFOA in soils or groundwater tables. A few states have set their own limits for health concerns far below the 70 ppt the EPA assigns.

Soon after the discovery of PFOS and PFOA in well water in Wainscott in October 2017, the town began offering to supply bottled water to all residents of Wainscott. By last spring, the town was pushing forward with providing grants to homeowners to install charcoal water filtration systems that can scrub out the two chemicals from well water, and in the spring the town and Suffolk County Water Authority announced plans to extend water mains throughout the hamlet to replace the wells.

The SCWA completed extending water mains to more than 500 homes in southern Wainscott last month. The project was paid for primarily with a $9.7 million grant from New York State, though residents must still pay to connect their homes to the mains, or allow the water authority’s contractors to do, which will be paid for by the town and amortized over 20 years with an assessment on property tax bills.

Last week, the town filed a lawsuit against the Bridgehampton Fire Department and East Hampton Village, which owns the East Hampton Fire Department, and the manufacturers and suppliers of the fire-suppressant foams that were used by the departments over the years. The town has also been named as a defendant in a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of Wainscott homeowners—one of dozens of such suits that have been filed across the country over contamination of drinking water supplies by chemicals from firefighting foam.

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So if a single use of the firefighting foam can contaminate a whole area then does every single location in East Hampton, Wainscott, Amagansett and Montauk for the past 30 years where there was a car fire, roof fire, and other fire where foam was used now qualify as a contaminated zone that is polluting the ground drinking water?
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jan 4, 19 12:24 AM
Not a "single use". Areas where firefighters repeatedly used foam in training exercises without clean up precautions. We live on a sandy glacial moraine and the aquifer is the remnants of that glacier... for the last 30 years we've been dumping massive amounts of phosphate fertilizer for golf courses and bright green lawns into this aquifer and using clean fresh water for swimming pools.
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Jan 4, 19 4:25 AM
You are spot on about use of the phosphate fertilizers for years and now we are seeing the consequences. But both the area at the approach end of runway 16 (had to close the runway to use) and the now parking lot of the terminal (it was just an empty field when they did the mass casualty drill before the terminal was built in the mid/late 90s, article has the date wrong) were actually only used one time each for firefighter training (we’ve never had an actual crash). So it seems concerning ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jan 4, 19 8:52 AM
Your reporting missed the most important finding in the NYDEC's Report:

“The presence of PFAS compounds in the soil above laboratory reporting limits indicate releases have occurred on-site”.

That means the PFOA and PFOS contamination are emanating from the Town -owned and operated EH Town Airport. Bragman's attempt to pass blame onto others in the "Bragman Lawsuit" does not change this finding.
By Colt (37), Wainscott on Jan 7, 19 12:09 PM