The chemical compounds used in firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and upholstery stain guards have been making news throughout the United States over the past year, primarily due to new, much lower EPA guidelines for the levels of this unregulated compound that are safe for drinking water.
Since the new guidelines of 70 parts per trillion were released by the EPA in April of 2016, the Hampton Bays Water District, which has a well field in downtown Hampton Bays, has shut down three of its wells in that field due to elevated levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).
Two of the wells, which had readings of 73 and 79 parts per trillion of PFOS, respectively, were shut off last year, and the third, whose levels are below the 70 ppt threshold, was slated to be shut off this week, Hampton Bays Water District Superintendent Robert King told the Southampton Town Board at its Sept. 7 work session.
The water district, which is overseen by the Southampton Town Board, which serves as its commissioners, is planning to install activated carbon filters on the wells, at a cost of about $1 million, before water use increases during next summer’s high water usage season.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the town could use $1 million set aside for water quality projects from a lawsuit won by the town concerning the gasoline additive MTBE to install the filters. The board will next discuss the issue at its water district meeting Oct. 6.
The town had been planning to use the money for a new well but found out in studying the site that the pumping from the new well would cause too much draw-down in existing wells.
The presence of PFOA in Hampton Bays’ groundwater has been the subject of many rumors throughout Hampton Bays in recent weeks, further fed by a report about the contamination last week on News 12, and a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation inquiry expected this fall into the source of the contamination.
The well field, near the Long Island Rail Road tracks behind the Hampton Bays Fire Department’s Main Street firehouse, is also not far from the site of a major fire decades ago in an airplane factory parts warehouse, said Mr. King at the Southampton Town Board’s Sept. 7 work session. It’s the district’s oldest well field, he said, and was installed in the 1950s.
“I do think we need to move forward with filtration, and I think we need to potentially go after the manufacturer of PFOS,” said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “The DEC is going to have to do their due diligence to determine where the PFOS came from.”
Residents using private wells surrounding Gabreski Airport in Westhampton and the Suffolk County Fire Academy training grounds in Yaphank have been hooked up to public water over the past year in an effort to avoid their exposure to the chemicals.
Long-term exposure to PFOA/PFOS in high concentrations can lead to cancer, liver damage, immune disorders, thyroid imbalance, cardiovascular issues and developmental disabilities, according to the EPA.
Mr. King, who also serves as a commissioner for the Hampton Bays Fire District, said the issue came to the water district’s attention after the EPA dramatically lowered the acceptable threshold in early 2016.
He added that the Suffolk County Department of Health Services tests the wells for PFOS on a monthly basis.
He added that the water district had sent out a mailer to its customers explaining what has been done to prevent exposure to the contamination, but Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, who lives in Hampton Bays, said many residents did not receive the letter.
“Nobody knowingly did anything wrong,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who added that Mr. King could be in a difficult spot in the future, as both a fire commissioner and superintendent of the water district, if the fire department is found responsible. “The firefighters were doing their job. Nobody knew this component was going to be found to be toxic 20 to 30 years later. Sometimes we learn about these chemicals’ toxicity a long time (later).”
“It’s important that the public understands nobody has been exposed and the town and water district took immediate steps to protect the public,” he added. “We don’t want anybody out there worrying they can’t drink their water.”
“It was an abundance of caution to shut down these wells,” said Councilman John Bouvier.
Ms. Lofstad suggested the water district send out a follow-up letter to explain its actions to residents.