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Aug 29, 2017 2:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

DEC To Investigate Source Of Chemicals That Contaminated Westhampton Wells

Several residents on Hazelwood Avenue in Westhampton were connected to the private, contaminated wells. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Aug 30, 2017 10:25 AM

Authorities are still working to pinpoint the source of pollution responsible for contaminating more than 100 private wells near and around Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton more than a year after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first identified a pair of unregulated chemicals in the drinking water.

Starting this fall, representatives of the State Department of Environmental Conservation said they will launch an investigation targeting the Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing base, located at the airport that is owned by Suffolk County and thought to be the source of the contamination.

Officials have said that they think the chemicals—perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA—will be traced to special firefighting foam once used at the base during training sessions. Both chemicals are classified as perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, and have typically been linked with industrial products, such as water-resistant coatings, oils, stains and certain greases, according to a fact sheet released by Suffolk County.

DEC officials expect to wrap up their investigation before the end of the year, according to an agency statement.

“The objective of the Site Investigation is to sample and analyze soil and groundwater at all identified areas of concern for perfluorinated compounds (PFCs, including PFOS and PFOA) at the base to determine which of the areas of concern are sources of the contaminated groundwater which has impacted public and private water supply wells,” reads the statement in part. “Areas of concern found to be sources of groundwater contamination will subsequently be investigated in greater detail to guide future cleanup activities.”

The upcoming investigation is expected to confirm if the contamination originated from the foam used at the base, said Christina Capobianco, deputy commissioner for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, and Amy Juchatz, an environmental toxicologist with the same department, in a recent joint interview.

As DEC officials ready for that investigation, homeowners in the direct path of the contamination are finally learning if their consumption of the tainted well water—possibly over several decades in some instances—has put them at risk. In the spring, a group of homeowners filed a class action lawsuit against multiple firefighting foam manufacturers alleging that their product, which had been sold to the ANG since 1970, polluted their drinking water.

Several homeowners exposed to the chemicals are being represented by Patrick Lanciotti of the Manhattan-based law firm Napoli Shkolnik PLLC in the class action lawsuit. A section of the firm’s website, www.napolilaw.com, is dedicated to well contamination, and states that the consumption of PFOA and PFOS can cause several serious illnesses, including testicular and kidney cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Mr. Lanciotti could not be immediately reached for comment, and several county officials declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying that they cannot comment on ongoing litigation.

“Napoli Shkolnik PPLC is investigating claims by Westhampton residents with private wells who were potentially exposed to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in the [Westhampton’s] drinking water supply,” the firm’s website reads. “You may have property damage or potential personal injury claims.”

Karen McNamara, who has lived in a home that sits off Quogue-Riverhead Road in East Quogue for 16 years, and has owned it for even longer, is one of the 104 homeowners whose wells have been contaminated by the toxins. She said she waited four months to get the results of her blood work from either the county or the State Department of Health, the latter of which took over the testing.

Shortly after the contamination was discovered, state officials in March offered complimentary blood testing to those residing in the 104 homes with the contaminated wells, while also agreeing to connect them to public water at no cost.

Noting that she had her blood drawn on April 14 at the Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Christiane and Richard Hiegel Healthcare Center in Westhampton Beach to test for the toxins, Ms. McNamara said she learned only recently that her blood contained 5.83 parts per billion, or ppb, of PFOS, as well as 1.89 ppb of PFOA—levels that are above what is considered safe for consumption, according to the State Department of Health. A health advisory is issued by the Environmental Protection Agency whenever traces of either chemical surpass 0.07 ppb, even though there are no specific federal or state guidelines for either chemical, mainly because little is known about either.

Both PFOS and PFOA are labeled as “Unspecific Organic Contaminants” by the state, which does not issue an advisory for either chemical unless their concentrations surpass 50 ppb.

“I’m not falling down sick or anything, but I’m concerned,” said Ms. McNamara, adding that she only learned of her blood work results in a letter dated August 9 and signed by Steven Forand, a master of public health with the State Department of Health’s Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology Center for Environmental Health. “It’s about time to find out what the hell is going on here.”

Ms. McNamara, who is not yet a plaintiff in the class action lawsuit, though that could change shortly, noted that she had been trying for months to get her blood results, only to be repeatedly told by state officials that no one had the authority to release them. She said she received the letter signed by Mr. Forand on August 12.

Ms. McNamara described the situation as frustrating, especially because these chemicals are not screened as part of routine blood testing. “I do get tested, but not to the extent of what these people are looking for,” Ms. McNamara said. “I go to my annual, or my semi-annual, but they are not looking for these words that I can’t even pronounce.”

According to Ms. McNamara, water samples retrieved from her well on July 29, 2016, by the county revealed that it contained 0.04 ppb of PFOS, and 0.02 ppb of PFOA. State officials recommend that people avoid drinking water that contains more than 0.07 ppb of either chemical, according to Ms. Capobianco, who referred to a county fact sheet.

The samples also revealed that Ms. McNamara’s well water contained 15.3 ppb of nitrogen, well above the county standard of 10 ppb.

Even though they have set acceptable standards for PFOS and PFOA, health officials across the board note that not enough is known about the potential hazard of long-term ingestion of either chemical to predict the scale of potential adverse health effects.

“[It depends] on the level of exposure, and how long folks are exposed, or how long they drank the water,” Ms. Capobianco said, referring specifically to PFOAs and PFOSs. “It’s always difficult—public health officials always err on the side of caution.”

As of August 11, 57 of the 104 homes with well water in the area have been hooked up to public water, according to Ms. Capobianco, who also noted that some of the contaminated wells were being used only for irrigation purposes. An additional seven homes are scheduled to be hooked up to public water soon; those still on well water will continue to be offered free bottled water from the county, Ms. Capobianco said. She noted that affected homeowners can be hooked up to public water for free but cannot be forced to do so.

The county has refused to release the exact locations of the affected homeowners, stating that releasing such information would be a violation of privacy. Most of the contaminated wells are south of the railroad tracks near the ANG base, and are sited as far west as Beaverdam Creek in Westhampton and as far east as East Quogue. County officials said they contacted the homeowners shortly after the EPA disclosed the contamination.

“Commissioners made outreach and encouraged them to connect to public water,” Ms. Capobianco said, noting that residents were also provided with fact sheets with frequently asked questions from James Tomarken, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Information about the well contamination can also be found on the Suffolk County Department of Health website, www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/HealthServices.

“Since the end of last July, the county has made a lot of outreach to the community,” Ms. Capobianco said.

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10 months after the Press reported that this is a PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY issue all following reports have specified that this only affects private water well homes. THIS AFFECTS EVERYONE CONNECTED TO THE PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY IN THIS AREA (including local public restaurants)!!! The SCWA public water supply well is on Old Meeting House Road 2,000 feet directly south of the airbase!!!

By Moneybogue (37), Westhampton Beach on Sep 8, 17 9:59 AM
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