State to Seek Water Pollution Source at Airport

PFCs in 28 of 50 tested, all but 1 at ‘safe’ levels

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has identified the East Hampton Airport as a potential inactive hazardous waste disposal site, according to a letter to the town, and will lead an investigation into the source of the chemical contamination in nearby wells. 

The detection of perfluorinated compounds, known as PFCs, in wells near the airport “may be attributable to current or past operations on your property,” the D.E.C. wrote in a Nov. 10 letter, as the compounds, listed as hazardous substances by the state, are components of firefighting foams. 

“This information leads us to suspect,” said the D.E.C. “that hazardous waste may have been disposed of” at the airport.

The state agency has asked that the town provide any relevant information, including “the locations of firefighting foam storage, use, and training activities.” 

Water contamination by firefighting foam has been tied to fire training facilities elsewhere on Long Island. A firefighters’ training facility run by the regional Fire Training Association operates on an industrial park lot at the airport, but Dan Shields of the Amagansett Fire Department, chairman of the association board, said earlier this fall that firefighting foam is not used there. 

Whether or not the foam has been used to fight fires in the area is a question; some recall a minor plane crash at the airport that led to a fire that was put out using the foam. 

The two perfluorinated chemicals of concern, known as PFOS and PFOA, are not regulated but are the subject of a federal health advisory designed “to provide information on contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water.”

Research on the potential health effects of exposure to them is ongoing by agencies including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, but they are believed to be linked to effects on the liver and immune system, and to kidney and other cancers.

Last Thursday, the town board approved a resolution designating the D.E.C. as “the lead investigatory agency into possible PFC contamination at the East Hampton Airport.” The town has been working with both the State Health Department and Suffolk County Health Department in efforts to have private wells tested within a designated area near the airport. The town is providing residents within the affected area, which includes some 400 properties, with bottled water upon request.

Officials have been urging owners of the more than 250 properties where the Health Department would like to sample water to authorize the test. As of mid-November, with about 50 tests concluded, PFCs had been found in 28 wells, though only one had levels higher than the 70 parts per trillion level set by the Environmental Protection Agency as a maximum safe level in water. 

The Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee is to discuss the water contamination at its meeting on Saturday, among other items on its agenda. The committee has been pressing for more information, including specifics on test results; the location of wells where the chemicals were detected, particularly in relation to the airport, the former sand mine, Georgica and Wainscott Ponds, and the Wainscott School; potential sourcesss; the efficacy of filtration systems that can eliminate the chemicals, and whether or not public water mains will be installed, and at whose cost.