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May 26, 2018 9:58 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

County Health Department Expands Wainscott Well Testing, Again

May 29, 2018 3:35 PM

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services announced last week that it will again expand its testing of private wells in residential neighborhoods south of East Hampton Airport—for the first time including a portion of eastern Southampton Town—to look for traces of chemical contaminants.

The announcement followed the detection of the perfluorinated compounds PFOS and PFOA in private wells beyond the delineated survey area, which led the Health Department to believe the chemicals may have migrated farther than previously thought. Earlier this month, a homeowner in Sagaponack Village who had asked that her well be tested said she was informed by the county that trace amounts of PFOS/PFOA were detected.

The new area extends from Merchants Path south to the ocean along Wainscott Harbor Road and Wainscott Hollow Road, and includes about 25 properties west of Town Line Road, in Southampton Town. It also includes all of the residential properties on both sides of Beach Lane in Wainscott and along the western shoreline of Georgica Pond, an area that East Hampton Town was already planning to have connected to Suffolk County Water Authority mains to replace wells with public water.

Last week, the East Hampton Town Board voted unanimously to borrow more than $24 million to pay for the extension of SCWA mains to more than 500 homes in the newly created Wainscott Water Supply District.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that the continued expansion of the survey area had been expected, and that the potential for the pollution to reach into Southampton Town is likely.

“Groundwater doesn’t care where the town line is,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “We thought long and hard about where we were going to draw the borders for the district, knowing full well that groundwater flow may show contaminated wells beyond the survey areas. That’s why we went all the way to the ocean and to the western border. And there will be detects beyond the district, I’m sure, to the east and to the west.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that there have already been detections of PFOS and PFOA in some wells east of Daniels Hole Road, the eastern boundary of the water supply district the town created.

And he said that the biggest unknown with the emerging concern over PFOS and PFOA will be how widespread the pollution is.

The current thinking around the Wainscott contamination is that the chemicals are emanating from somewhere in the area of East Hampton Airport, where fire-suppressant foams that contained the chemicals were stored and occasionally used in training over many years. The State Department of Environmental Conservation is currently conducting an investigation to try to trace the Wainscott contamination back to its source. A Wainscott resident has filed a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of several fire-suppressant foams, as well as the giant manufacturing corporation 3M.

But, the East Hampton supervisor said, the chemicals were used in such a wide variety of products, some of which were commonly available for household use, that there may be a much larger problem than just what’s been found in Wainscott.

“This stuff was used in so many products—we are going to have to wait and see how common this chemical may end up being in groundwater on Long Island,” he said. “So far, they’re only testing around airports. But it only takes 19 drops of this stuff in a 70,000-gallon swimming pool to reach the health advisory level.”

The chemicals were only recently identified as posing potential health concerns, especially to fetuses and breast-fed babies.

Although PFOS and PFOA are still unregulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, it has issued a lifetime health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. But some states have set their own health advisory levels at a fraction of that—as few as 15 parts per trillion.

The county will contact residents in the new survey areas to request permission to test their wells, but has said that anyone, whether they are in the survey area or not, can call the department’s Office of Water Resources directly at 631-852-5810 to request to have their wells tested free of charge.

Until their wells are tested, residents of East Hampton Town can call the East Hampton Town Purchasing Department at 631-324-4183, or email jcarroza@ehamponny.gov, to obtain free bottled drinking water as a precaution. Residents in the expanded area who live in Southampton Town can contact jwilson@southamptontownny.gov or call 631-283-6055 for free bottled water.

The county has said that bathing and showering are not expected to be a health concern even if the contaminants are present. But a consultant for the attorney who has filed a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of products that contained PFOS/PFOA recently told Wainscott residents that he would not recommend bathing or cooking with the water or swimming in pools filled from a contaminated well.

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