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Jul 22, 2016 4:24 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

EPA Warns About Potential Contaminants In Drinking Water Wells South Of Gabreski Airport In Westhampton

Members of the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management distribute bottled water to homeowners with a possibly contaminated well. BY ERIN MCKINLEY
Jul 27, 2016 10:54 AM

State and Suffolk County officials are still trying to determine the source of a pair of chemicals newly discovered to be threatening private drinking water wells to the south of Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, though foam used to extinguish fires appears to be the most likely culprit.

On Friday afternoon, Westhampton and Westhampton Beach Village residents who are connected to private wells were warned not to drink the water and to have their systems tested as soon as possible after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified a pair of unregulated chemicals in local supplies.

This week, officials with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services said that while the chemicals will likely be traced to fire suppressing foam used during training exercises at the Westhampton airport over several years, the official cause will not be known until the State Department of Environmental Conservation completes an extensive investigation. The airport is owned by Suffolk County and is also home to the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing.

Due to the findings, the DEC has informed both Suffolk County, which owns Gabreski, and ANG officials that the airport could eventually be classified as an inactive hazardous waste disposal site, commonly called a Superfund site. The action was prompted because firefighting foam was or is still being used at the ANG base, according to county officials.

The two recently discovered chemicals, classified as perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, are perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. According to Jason Hime, the supervisor for the Bureau of Drinking Water for the Suffolk County Department of Health, quantities of both were recently detected in three of four monitoring wells that the county has installed near the airport; county officials would not disclose the locations of their monitoring wells.

He explained that small amounts of both chemicals have been detected in three of the monitoring wells and that discovery prompted the county to contact all 104 property owners to the south of the airport still using private wells, urging them to get additional testing done as soon as possible. The county started testing private wells this past weekend, declining to share their locations as well.

“It is unclear to me at this point whether it was related to fire foam training at the site, or actual fires at the site, or a spill at the site,” Mr. Hime said. “That is going to be determined by the DEC and their investigation.”

Those homeowners and business owners hooked up to public water supplies do not have to worry about the contamination, according to county officials.

Suffolk County Health Department officials are urging homeowners with private wells who live south of the railroad tracks in Westhampton Beach, and between Beaverdam Creek in Westhampton and Quantuck Creek on the Quogue Village border, to drink bottled water until they can have their systems checked. County officials began testing private wells over the weekend, and have thus far collected 19 samples from 16 homes. Test results will take approximately two weeks to come back. The county intends to test all 104 wells but must first secure the permission of the property owners.

“Out of an abundance of caution, if you are using a private well as your water supply, you may want to consider using bottled water for drinking, cooking and preparing infant formula until your well is tested and the quality of your supply can be assured,” a county press release issued on Friday reads.

On Monday, Mr. Hime explained that there are many unknowns with the chemicals, which have a number of industrial and commercial uses, and are typically found in firefighting foam and coatings that repel grease, oil, water, and stains. He added that there has been few studies focusing on how the chemicals affect people, and there is no indication at this point that the contaminants can cause cancer or other ailments. However, it is also unclear what prolonged exposure to the chemicals can do to the body.

“It is really important to stress that this is an action level and not a level that the EPA feels people should be concerned that, because of this, it is causing cancer,” Suffolk County press liaison Grace Kelly-McGovern said this week. “It is an action level, which means there is a margin of safety based on animal studies.”

In routine testing two weeks ago, three of the four monitoring wells tested positive for the chemicals, with Ms. Kelly-McGovern noting that the county does not know how long they have been present in the water because they have never tested for them before. She explained that the chemicals are not regulated by the federal government, and the state only recently began aggressively testing for them in local waterways.

The highest concentration detected in one of the monitoring wells was recorded at 0.05 parts per billion, or ppb. The two other wells each contained 0.04 ppb of the same chemicals. The EPA recommends action whenever a chemical is detected in drinking water at levels higher than 0.07 ppb.

Mr. Hime noted that of the roughly 3,000 taxable properties in Westhampton and Westhampton Beach, only 104 have been identified as still being on private instead of public water. Of those 104, he added, some have private wells for irrigation but public water for consumption purposes. During door-to-door surveying over the weekend, officials also learned that some residents have infiltration systems installed on their wells that remove chemicals and purify water.

The county, meanwhile, is now installing carbon granulated vessels in its monitoring wells to help remove the chemicals, Mr. Hime said. He explained that the carbon is activated by the chemicals and acts as a purifier.

In a prepared statement, Kevin Frazier, a media liaison for the DEC, said this week that the agency is still working to map all areas of potential contamination.

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health are working aggressively to investigate potential areas of contamination based on known and potential areas of PFOS usage in the vicinity of the Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach,” the statement reads. “The state is actively supporting Suffolk County and its residents in their efforts to determine if private wells are impacted, and is making every effort to expedite all work to identify the extent of the contamination and assure continued clean drinking water for the Westhampton Beach community.”

The county is providing free bottled water to the affected homeowners at Westhampton Beach Village Hall, 165 Mill Road. Interested parties were able to pick up cases of water—four cases of Poland Spring water for every five people—throughout the weekend, and can continue to do so all this week, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., in the back parking lot.

On Tuesday morning, Oneck Road resident Charles Casano collected a few cases of bottled water, explaining that he is not 100 percent certain if he is on public water. “It can be very concerning,” he said of the situation. “I’m glad they [county officials] are here.”

On Tuesday, Westhampton Beach Village Mayor Maria Moore said the village is doing everything it can to help county and state officials control the situation. She added that she was informed of the contamination on Friday in an hour-long conference call with state, county, and Southampton Town officials.

“We want to help any way we can,” she said, also confirming that most people in the village are on public water.

The Suffolk County Health Department encourages private well owners in the area who want their drinking wells tested to call its Office of Water Resources at (631) 852-5810.

“It is important that the scope of the problem be quickly identified,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said on Friday while highlighting other high-profile instances, such as those occurring in Flint, Michigan, where the government failed to notify residents about contaminated water supplies.

“Notification of residents who have private wells and testing their well water is the first step,” he added. “I advise residents to follow the advice of the state and county until the full extent of the problem can be determined.”

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The water has been contaminated for over 30 plus years, that is why the Federal government provided free water hookups to all Peters lane residents many years back, that is why a large cluster of autoimune deseease and cancer has been a large issue in the southern communities along the border. its NOT SOMETHING NEW. ITS JUST A new recent notification.
By 1percent (52), Quogue on Jul 23, 16 4:07 PM
I'm glad to see this story and my hope is that somehow more of the truth comes out. This is not new, I believe it's been going on for my lifetime, since the 1960s. All the illnesses & suffering we have seen in our neighborhoods are not a coincidence.
By Songster (6), Westhampton Beach on Jul 24, 16 8:42 AM
Might as well build some condos and a golf course on it then
(Sarcasm )
By dave h (193), calverton on Jul 24, 16 10:54 AM
Also south of Gabreski is the wildlife refuge. Running the trails for years I've noticed the streams, springs & ponds at the Refuge have a oily, rainbow colored sheen. The springs are the worst. I and others have mentioned this to the staff & director but they dismissed it. Maybe the EPA can take a look and some samples?
By G (342), Southampton on Jul 26, 16 7:44 AM
How soon before East Hampton Airport presents the same results? This is terrible.
By mcgrawkeber (47), East Hampton on Jul 27, 16 3:41 PM
I recently found an old article about the EPA knew about the contamination in 1980 and further back, but indicated it was not an issue to worry about. I guess they were wrong, My family and many neighboring families has suffered from the contamination from this polluted County property. I think its time to really investigate this matter to find out just how many members of our community are sick or who have died. Time to form a class action matter.
By 1percent (52), Quogue on Aug 9, 16 8:24 PM