The State Department of Environmental Conservation will conduct an investigation this coming winter and spring into the source of the chemical contamination of groundwater in Wainscott, at the request of East Hampton Town.
If the source of the contamination is found to be someplace on the town-owned East Hampton Airport property, the town could be made to pay for the costs of the research. Even so, the Town Board agreed last week to ask the DEC to conduct the investigation rather than having the town do the investigation itself. “It’s clear that they are in a better position to do this investigation, with our complete cooperation,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said. The investigation “will include a search of records, and the possibility that there will be soil testing and that some new wells will be drilled in order to determine possible sources.”
Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski noted that were the town to take on the investigation itself it would need to hire consultants to do the actual work. The DEC will likely use a combination of its own experienced staff and hired consultants, officials acknowledged, and could recoup its costs from the town if the contamination is determined to be coming from town property.
The Suffolk County Department of Health discovered several wells earlier this year that were contaminated with two chemical compounds—perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA—that are commonly used in firefighting foam and in a variety of plastics.
The Health Department tests have turned up 28 wells in Wainscott that show signs of PFOS or PFOA contamination, though only one was found with levels of the compounds higher than what is considered a health concern for humans. Two dozen of the wells tested had no traces of either compound in them, and results from another 93 wells are still pending.
About 80 private wells in the region identified as thought to be potentially at risk for contamination have yet to be tested, according to the most recent report from the Health Department. There are 246 residential properties identified as of concern in the region, which runs from the airport to just south of Montauk Highway between Townline Road and Daniels Hole Road.
Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said that 80 homeowners are currently receiving deliveries of bottled water—paid for by the town—for drinking and cooking.
The DEC investigation is expected to take three to six months to complete. The state officials will hold a public information meeting for local residents in January or February, once they have developed their work plan for the investigation.
The airport has been seen as a likely source of the contamination, because firefighting supplies that contain the two compounds have been stored at the property for decades, and because there is a firefighter training facility on town-owned property adjacent to the airport.
But Mr. Sendlenski warned against jumping to conclusions.
“We don’t know that the source is at East Hampton Airport,” he said. “There’s been a lot of talk that, of course, it’s this, there’s been rumors it’s this. But until the investigation is complete, they won’t know what the source is—that’s why they do the investigation.”
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