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Mar 22, 2018 5:07 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Wainscott Homeowner Sues Over Well Contamination

Firefighters spraying fire retardant foam during a disaster response exercise at the Wainscott gravel pit in June 2000. Michael Wright
Mar 27, 2018 1:52 PM

A Wainscott homeowner has filed a lawsuit against East Hampton Town and several chemical manufacturing companies—including the Minnesota-based giant conglomerate 3M—over the contamination of her home’s well by chemicals believed to have leached into the ground from industrial properties ringing East Hampton Airport.

The class-action lawsuit was brought by Kate Shipman, a West Gate Road homeowner, but also stakes a claim on behalf of unnamed homeowners and renters in the still-expanding region of Wainscott, where the contamination by chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA is being found in some wells.

At last count, there were 398 homes using residential wells that had been identified as at risk, with 118 of the 224 tested so far showing some level of contaminants, including Ms. Shipman’s.

“If you are a resident of Wainscott, this is a big, big deal,” said Daniel Osborn, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of Ms. Shipman, who is an employee in one of his offices. “The defendants … developed and manufactured what we say was a defective product. They’ve put this dangerous product out there and not warned people about it. A lawsuit settled in Minnesota seems to indicate that 3M knew about it decades ago.”

Mr. Osborn said he thinks the number of potential plaintiffs could wind up to be more than 300.

The suit, which was filed Wednesday, March 21, in State Supreme Court, asks for the defendants to be found responsible for compensating all plaintiffs for health monitoring, installing water filtration systems at all homes and connecting the entire region to Suffolk County Water Authority mains—and compensating for lost property value because of the contamination.

The East Hampton Town Board has already asked the county to start planning for water main extensions to the affected neighborhoods, and board members have said they support the town picking up the tab for connecting any wells found to be contaminated to filtration devices.

Mr. Osborn said he thinks that initiative should be applied to every house in the region, not just those with wells already found to be contaminated. The town is currently providing bottled water to any resident who requests it.

The loss of property value, he said, could be substantial if houses in the neighborhood are not connected to filters or water mains by summer, when many homes would typically be rented for tens of thousands of dollars—as would-be tenants might be unhappy about not being able to use the homes’ taps.

In addition to the town and the 3M Company, the suit names several fire-suppressant foam manufacturers—Angus Fire, the Ansul Company, Buckeye Fire Protection, Chemguard, and National Foam—as defendants.

The town’s role in the contamination, the suit claims, was one of negligence, for not having taken steps to ensure that drinking water supplies were protected. The contamination discovered last summer in groundwater beneath Wainscott is believed to have emanated from the industrial properties rimming the airport, land that is owned by the town.

The suit points to a commonly used firefighting product, aqueous film-forming foam, which is known to have been stored around the airport, as well as the belief that foams were sprayed over open ground during firefighting training and drills. The suit raises the possibility that other businesses, like a carpet cleaning company, also could have had the chemicals on the grounds, as PFOS and PFOA are used in products like Scotch Guard fabric protectorates as well.

3M halted manufacturing of PFOS in 2002 because of fears about the environmental and health risks it posed but did not recall products that had been made with the compounds. In February, the company reached an $850 million settlement with the state of Minnesota over contamination of groundwater from decades of disposing the chemical in landfills.

The discovery of the apparent contaminant plume in Wainscott came in the wake of a federal effort to tackle contamination from firefighting foams at U.S. Air Force bases. That inquiry, and advisories by the Environmental Protection Agency, spurred Suffolk County health officials to canvass airport facilities around Long Island last summer for locations where the foams may have been stored or used.

Contamination has been found at more than 100 homes in the area of Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, home to the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing. The State Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating the cause, but firefighting drills at the airport are one possible source.

The Hampton Bays Water Authority filed a similar lawsuit against firefighting foam manufacturers in February, after PFOS and PFOA were found in three of the authority’s 11 wells.

Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski declined to comment on Ms. Shipman’s lawsuit, as is the town’s policy with all pending legal challenges.

The town and other defendants have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit, but Mr. Osborn said that he is considering seeking a court order to compel a faster time line.

“This is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,” Mr. Osborn said.

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The headline says "Well Contamination" yet there is not a single line in the story that speaks of this homeowner or any other entity having a contaminated well. Which is it, bad reporting or simply bad headline writing?
By VOS (1116), WHB on Mar 23, 18 10:39 PM
It says, "At last count, there were 398 homes using residential wells that had been identified as at risk, with 118 of the 224 tested so far showing some level of contaminants, including Ms. Shipman’s." Any updated story should contain some data on the testing results: how high levels are, how they compare to acceptable levels, how many houses are above the acceptable level, etc.
By juliacmead (7), East Hampton on Mar 29, 18 1:56 PM