The Town of East Hampton and the Suffolk County Water Authority have been granted $9.7 million by the State of New York to help cover the cost of bringing public water to hundreds of homes in the hamlet to protect residents from contamination by chemicals officials say may harm public health.
The funding is part of a $200 million water infrastructure grant announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on Tuesday and made possible through the state’s $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act and Intermunicipal Infrastructure Act. Governor Cuomo has earmarked the funding specifically for communities trying to address federally unregulated contaminants like the perfluorinated chemicals PFOS and PFOA and 1,4-dioxane. According to Governor Cuomo’s office, the funding — $185 million for water treatment system upgrades to combat these emerging contaminants and another $15 million for communities already pursuing these upgrades or “innovative pilot treatment technologies” — comes as the state also prepares to set its own enforceable drinking water standards for PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane.
Currently, PFOA and PFOS carry a “health advisory level” from the Environmental Protection Agency of 70 parts per trillion, although the standard is purely advisory. Largely phased out of production between 2000 and 2006 — there are some limited ongoing uses according to EPA — PFOA and PFOS were used to manufacture fire suppressant foams, as well as materials that are resistant to water, grease or stains. The exact health impact is unknown, although vulnerable populations that have been identified by the EPA include infants and nursing and pregnant mothers.
“Access to safe drinking water should be a right, not a privilege, and any compromise to the water supply must be addressed immediately,” said New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. this week. “I thank the Suffolk County Water Authority and the Town of East Hampton for working tirelessly to combat the serious public health issue of emerging contaminants in the Wainscott drinking water supply, and I am pleased that the state is supporting these crucial efforts.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Suffolk County Health Department are investigating the source of contamination in private wells south of the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott. In the meantime, town officials and the water authority quickly established a Wainscott Water Supply District to bring public water to the affected area, breaking ground on the installation of new water mains in late August.
During Tuesday’s East Hampton Town Board work session, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said to date that 21,380-feet of mains had been installed so far, representing about 48 percent of the project. This week, installation was expected to continue on Westgate, Crossway and Eastgate roads.
Of the 490 private wells sampled in Wainscott, results have shown that 230 wells have some form of contamination from PFOA and PFOS, although just 16 were over the EPA advisory level. Over 250 wells, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, have shown no trace of the chemicals, which have also been found in Southampton, Westhampton Beach and other locations throughout New York State.
The total cost of the project is over $20 million, with the town covering the cost of the water main extension and individual homeowners able to amortize the connection to their homes through their tax bill over the next 20 years.
Mr. Van Scoyoc noted during Tuesday’s work session that private contractors and plumbers may be able to install the connections for three or four times less than ones that emerge from the Suffolk County Water Authority’s public bidding process. However, he added, in the case of using a private contractor, a homeowner would have to pay for the work upfront rather than finance the cost through their tax bill.
“That is a decision each resident will have to make on their own,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “In addition, there is no requirement to hook up to public water but certainly, with the concerns over the contaminants in that area, you are at risk if you continue to use your private well without filtration.”
According to Mr. Van Scoyoc, 91 property owners have yet to have their wells tested for contamination. “If you live south of the East Hampton Airport, you really should have your water tested,” he said.