Gabreski Airport in 1996
Gabreski Airport in 1996

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that Gabreski Air National Guard Base, where two emerging contaminants used in firefighting foam have been found in the groundwater this year, has been named a State Superfund Site.

With this designation, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has identified the U.S. Department of Defense, which oversees the site’s operations, as the potentially responsible party for the perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) contamination detected in nearby groundwater.

According to Mr. Cuomo’s office, the “DEC will use its full legal authority under the State Superfund law to ensure a thorough site clean-up.”

These actions are part of the efforts of the governor’s Water Quality Rapid Response Team, launched on Long Island in February.

The DEC added PFOS to the state’s list of hazardous substances that qualify for inclusion in the State Superfund program in April of this year.

In July, the DEC identified the Air National Guard Base, including the former fire training area at the airport, as a potential Superfund site, due to historic use of firefighting foam containing PFOS.

The DEC has taken groundwater and soil samples at the base confirming that the site is a significant source of PFOS contamination.

Also in late July, Suffolk County collected samples of 66 private drinking water wells from Westhampton Beach and found several of them to be contaminated. The state has been working with Suffolk County and the Suffolk County Water Authority to provide information and bottled water to residents, and to coordinate connection to the municipal water supply.

The state has directed the Department of Defense to finance the connection of private wells that have been or may be contaminated to the municipal water supply. If the DOD fails to do this, the state will use Superfund money to complete the connections and then seek reimbursement from the DOD.

Governor Cuomo has also called on the EPA to expand the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule program to require sampling for all public water supplies, regardless of the size of the population served.

Currently, only water systems with more than 10,000 people connected are required to test for unregulated contaminants, leaving out 2.5 million New Yorkers who get their drinking water from smaller systems.

If the EPA fails to address this challenge, the governor’s office plans to work for legislation to require testing of all public water in New York State for unregulated contaminants, and to require that the results of those tests be made publicly available.

The governor’s office is also promoting legislation requiring homeowners to test for contaminants prior to the sale of a home, and mandating that landlords with properties on private wells test their water and share those results with tenants.

“Ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to clean drinking water is a top priority and the Water Quality Rapid Response Team continues to take action across the state to stay ahead of this emerging challenge,” said Governor Cuomo in a press release Sept. 12.

“The Superfund designation at Gabreski Airport is critically important to begin to properly address the contamination in an expedited manner,” agreed State Senator Ken LaValle in a statement Sept. 15. “The residents deserve to have every tool available utilized to clean up their water as soon as physically possible.”

“Today’s Superfund designation is a timely and significant step in the right direction,” said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele. “I applaud our government officials for acting so quickly to identify the scope of the problem, notify residents and now secure the funding necessary to ensure these contaminated soils and waters are contained, removed and remediated.”

“Residents of our community must be able to count on access to clean drinking water,” said South Fork Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming. “I am grateful for the care that government officials at all levels have taken in this instance to ensure that groundwater contamination is detected and remediated.”

All three local legislators said they are committed to ensuring that follow-up investigations occur and are conducted in an open and transparent manner, and that monitoring continues to ensure any potential future issues are addressed immediately.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

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