After the U.S. Department of Defense refused to pay for work done by the Suffolk County Water Authority and the Suffolk County Health Department to protect the public from contaminants in private wells surrounding Gabreski Airport, the Water Authority has filed civil complaints against the manufacturers of chemicals contaminating the water supply both in Westhampton Beach and in other locations throughout the county.
The two separate complaints, filed Nov. 30 in the Eastern District Court of New York, are against manufacturers of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and against manufacturers of the synthetic industrial chemical 1,4-dioxane.
“The ratepayers of the Suffolk County Water Authority should not have to pay for the reckless behavior of companies who knew or should have known about these dangers,” said SCWA Chairman James F. Gaughran. “And we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they won’t.”
The PFOA/PFOS complaint charges that the 3M Company; Buckeye Fire Equipment Company; Chemguard Inc.; Tyco Fire Products LP; and National Foam, Inc. knew or should have known that the firefighting foam they made, distributed or sold is dangerous to human health and contains unique characteristics that cause extensive and persistent environmental contamination, according to the complaint.
The 1,4-dioxane complaint includes the same claims against Dow Chemical Company, Ferro Corporation, Vulcan Materials Corporation, Proctor & Gamble and Shell Oil Company in regard to their products—primarily industrial degreasers, laundry detergents and other household products.
All three chemicals have the potential to cause cancer. PFOA and PFOS are particularly dangerous to pregnant women and children, while 1,4-dioxane causes liver and kidney damage.
The PFOA/PFOS complaint points out that airports and bases operated by the U.S. Air Force and other branches of the military have used firefighting foams containing the compounds for nearly 50 years to conduct firefighting and explosion drills. These sites have been linked to the widespread contamination of groundwater not just in Suffolk County, but throughout the United States.
The production of PFOA and PFOS was phased out by 2002 under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but the mobility and persistence of these contaminants mean that additional treatment will be needed, potentially for decades to come.
In July of 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation gathered groundwater samples surrounding Gabreski Airport and the Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach, where firefighting foam had been used since the 1970s. PFOA and PFOS were detected in public and private supply wells surrounding the airport.
The Suffolk County Water Authority has already invested more than $4.8 million for filtration systems, laboratory sampling, and the installation of water mains to hook up homes that had contaminated private wells surrounding Gabreski Airport, while the Suffolk County Department of Health Services has invested more than $491,000 for a private well survey groundwater investigation, which included the installation of four groundwater profile wells, laboratory analytical services, and providing bottled water, community outreach and administrative and legal services.
The Water Authority is not the only local agency considering legal actions against the manufacturers of PFOA/PFOS. Southampton Town retained legal counsel in October in consideration of a similar lawsuit over PFOA/POFS contamination at the Hampton Bays Water District‘s well field near the Hampton Bays Fire Department.
The other chemical, 1, 4-dioxane, is present in a wide variety of industrial and household products, and has been detected in more than 50 percent of supply wells on Long Island.
The synthetic chemical has been primarily used in industrial settings as a stabilizer for chlorinated solvents used to dissolve greasy substances from machines. Its most widespread commercial use is in laundry detergents and other household products such as soaps, deodorants and shampoos.
The Water Authority is currently conducting testing on a treatment system to remove 1,4-dioxane from groundwater using Advanced Oxidation Process, a process they estimate could cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars on Long Island.