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Jan 29, 2019 3:56 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Wainscott Sand Pit Owners Say Fire Drill There Did Not Contribute To Contamination

The owners of the Wainscott Sand & Gravel pit in Wainscott say that their investigation of an emergency drill in June 2000 indicates that firefighting foams containing the chemicals PFOS and PFOA were not used by the fire departments who participated.  Michael Wright
Jan 29, 2019 3:56 PM

The owners of the Wainscott Sand & Gravel pit say that extensive testing by their consultants has revealed no signs of the chemicals PFOS or PFOA in the property’s soils—as might be expected if firefighting foams suspected of causing widespread groundwater contamination in the area had been used there.

An emergency training drill on the property in June 2000 had included the spraying of a sudsy white substance onto a school bus intended to simulate a crashed airplane, leaving pools of white liquid on the open ground. But a former fire chief, who was present at the drill, says he does not believe that the substances sprayed were the sort of fire-suppressant foams, known as aqueous film-forming foam, that contain PFOS and PFOA.

In response to the concerns about the possibility of contamination from the drill, and as part of an application to redevelop the former sand mine into a 50-lot light industrial park, the owners of the property tasked the consultants who had already been conducting groundwater testing at the property to examine the location where the 2000 drill is believed to have taken place for signs of contamination.

Using photos of the drill taken by The Press, the consultants determined where they think the drill took place and tested soils from the area.

David Eagan, vice president of the Wainscott Commercial Center, as the industrial park is to be known, said that the testing resulted in no detections of PFOS or PFOA. He acknowledged that water testing on the property has shown high levels of the contaminants but said that their absence in the soils is convincing evidence that the contamination is being carried onto the property by groundwater from contaminated sites at the airport and does not originate there.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation recently released a report of its months-long examination of the East Hampton Airport property, which identified four locations with greatly elevated levels of PFOS in both the soil and surrounding groundwater, all of which were at one point the site of discharges or storage of the firefighting foams that are believed to be the source of the chemicals that have been detected in hundreds of drinking water wells in southern Wainscott.

“The key finding in the DEC report was the detections in the soil, which is the evidence of the discharges,” Mr. Eagan said in an interview last week. “We had no detects of PFOA/PFOS in the soil … which tells us that the PFOA/PFOS is coming from an upgradient source.”

He also pointed out that the substance being sprayed in the photos from the June 2000 drill looks materially different from the thicker substance shown being used by firefighters during an earlier drill on the airport property.

The former chief of the Bridgehampton Fire Department, James McCaffrey Jr., who was in charge of the department at the time, said this week that based on the photos of the June 2000 drill, he thinks the substance sprayed that day was chemically treated water known as a “wetting agent” and not the sort of firefighting foams that contain PFOS/PFOA.

He said his own department never used the foams during drills, even before health concerns were raised about their use, because they were expensive and messy to clean up.

He acknowledged that the substance being sprayed in the photos from that day came from a truck owned by the East Hampton Fire Department. Francis Mott, who was the chief of the East Hampton Fire Department in June 2000, said he could not recall what had been used by the department’s main airport firefighting truck that day.

Current East Hampton Fire Department Chief Gerard Turza was an assistant chief of the Bridgehampton department in 2000 and helped coordinate the drill. He also said he did not remember what the trucks had been spraying that day.

Mr. McCaffrey said, from looking at the photos of the drill, that he was sure it was not a film-forming foam.

“If they’d used that foam, it would have been everywhere, because it doesn’t soak into the ground—that’s why you use it,” he said. “It would take 300 to 400 gallons to fill a truck, and they wouldn’t have wasted it.”

The DEC has said it plans to do further testing of its own on the Wainscott Sand & Gravel property, and the East Hampton Town Planning Board earlier this month insisted that more extensive testing than that done so far by the owners’ consultants be conducted as part of the environmental review of the industrial park plans.

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