The State Department of Health agreed on Tuesday to offer free blood testing for those homeowners living near Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton whose private drinking water wells might have been contaminated with firefighting chemicals traced back to the Air National Guard base that still operates at the airport.
The announcement came less than 24 hours after two state lawmakers, Senator Kenneth LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., issued a release bashing the Department of Health for initially ignoring their joint request, filed with the department nearly three months earlier on November 17, asking that the agency begin offering such a monitoring program to those who might have been drinking contaminated well water for years, if not decades.
When reached on Tuesday, a representative for the Department of Health confirmed that the agency would be starting such a program in the Westhampton area, though the individual could not clarify who would be eligible, or how much such an undertaking is expected to cost.
“I was contacted by the State Department of Health today who informed me that biomonitoring will now be offered to Westhampton Beach residents who have had contaminated wells,” Mr. LaValle said in a prepared statement issued on Tuesday. “We are currently awaiting details on the testing, and will continue to keep the pressure on the department for the information.
“Our constituents have a right to know about the level of their exposure to PFOS,” he continued.
The demand for testing comes months after two chemicals—perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA—were detected in the private wells of eight homes in Westhampton, Westhampton Beach and Quiogue over the summer. The discovery prompted the immediate testing of nearly 100 other homes in the area by Suffolk County, which owns the Westhampton airport, and, in more recent weeks, the installation of new public water mains in Westhampton Beach. The chemicals, typically found in fire suppression foam, have been traced back to the military base at the airport, which had been used in the past for firefighting training.
On Monday, the day before the health department agreed to offer monitoring for locals who might have ingested the chemicals, both Mr. LaValle and Mr. Thiele sent a joint letter to the agency stating that its lack of response for three months was “unacceptable,” especially since it had already implemented similar “blood monitoring protocol in the Hoosick Falls and Newburgh areas, where the contaminant PFOA was identified” in drinking water.
“We appreciate the quick response to provide water main extensions and hook-ups to the Westhampton community,” that letter, sent on Monday, reads. “However, this is only one part of the response to this environmental problem. Public health is also a great concern to residents. Biomonitoring is a critical part of assessing the health risk. A decision needs to be made now.”
The Department of Health is already overseeing one of the largest biomonitoring programs in the state in Hoosick Falls, a town in upstate New York on the Vermont border where PFOA was found in water and soil samples, and linked to a manufacturing plant using Teflon. Testing of water near the plant in 2015 revealed chemical levels more than 45 times higher than what is recommended for short time exposure limits, according to reporting by The New York Times on the situation.
As part of that program, residents have the option to have their blood tested to determine exposure amounts, though, as with PFOS and PFOA, little is known about potential effects of long-term exposure to such chemicals.
The Department of Health said it would be releasing more information about the Westhampton program, which would be run on a much smaller scale than that now taking place in Hoosick Falls, in the next few weeks.