East Hampton Airport Makes State Superfund Site List

The old fuel farm at the East Hampton Airport. Peter Boody photo

“Chemical treadmill.”

Those are the words Group for the East End President and CEO Bob DeLuca used to describe the continuous unveiling of potentially harmful chemicals found in the East End’s groundwater. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation listed 47 acres of East Hampton Airport on its “Superfund” site list on May 23.

The site received a classification of 2, according to the DEC, which means that the 47 acres represent “a significant threat to public health and/or the environment” and require further action be taken.

“We have to become better acquainted with the fact that the fundamental infrastructure of the East End is the natural environment,” Mr. DeLuca said, emphasizing that the groundwater here is the drinking water. “Those chemicals are going somewhere. There is a cycle – this water cycle – and we are in the middle of it.”

Following an investigation and the conclusion of a “Site Characterization Report” in November 2018 that found perfluorinated chemicals in the soil and groundwater, the DEC and State Department of Health determined the airport should be listed on the state’s “Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites.” These chemicals – also known as PFAS and that include PFOS, perfluorooctane sulfonate, and PFOA, perfluoroctanoic acid – were frequently used in firefighting foam and in numerous consumer products and food packaging, like pizza boxes. Though in most cases they are no longer produced, they are persistent in the environment because they are resistant to water, grease or stains.

“Listing the site as a superfund site allows the state to use the powers and tools available through the program to ensure a comprehensive investigation occurs and the site is cleaned up more expeditiously,” according to the DEC. The agency is expected to give East Hampton Town a consent order, which would set in motion a more detailed study of the site and implementation of a cleanup program. Those results would ultimately dictate the cleanup plan and its duration.

The 47 acres that will be added to the Superfund site list include one of the airport’s runways, a fire training facility, areas along Industrial Road and west of Daniel’s Hole Road, a fuel depot and a firefighting storage facility.

“The Town intends to proceed expeditiously and will seek repayment of all costs to investigate and remediate the contamination from all responsible parties,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said in a press release. He did not respond to further requests for comment.

The press release notes that the town is cooperating with the DEC to perform further investigation and testing. It has retained as environmental counsel Rigano LLC, a firm based in Melville that focuses on environmental matters, among others. The firm has already sued the manufacturers of the chemicals and the firefighting foam, as well as the foam users.

The DEC notes that those parties who are responsible for the contamination often pay for both the investigation and assessment of cleanup options. Money from the 1986 Environmental Quality Bond Act is available in case those parties do not fund the investigation.

“The superfund process creates a structure which gives you consistency in characterizing the problem, essentially assessing the potential risk to health and the environment,” Mr. DeLuca said. “It sets a common standard for cleanup and in this case you have partners trying to clean up this mess.”

After East Hampton Town initially found out about the contamination south of East Hampton Airport in Wainscott in 2017, it created a new public water district to serve roughly 500 homes in the hamlet. The extension of public water mains was completed at the end of last year.

“The more you can standardize the approach, the process, the integration of agencies and eventually the remediation, the better off you are,” Mr. DeLuca said.

“I’m glad it’s being addressed and there hasn’t been any delay on being responsible,” said Kevin McAllister, founder and president of Defend H2O, a nonprofit that works to protect groundwater, and other water sources, on Long Island. “We can’t wash our hands from this – we have to ensure we are dealing with this because there are potentially environmental implications to the contamination.”

There are several other Superfund sites in Suffolk County, including the Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, which is similarly considered a Class 2 site due to PFOS contamination found in nearby groundwater supplies. Contamination was also found in the 1980s at the Rowe Industries property in Sag Harbor, and that Superfund site is still undergoing five-year reviews, with the next one anticipated in May 2023, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“PFOS was around for a long time before anyone thought it was a problem,” Mr. DeLuca said. “I’m sure that’s true for a lot of chemicals.”

“As in most things, we’ve kind of met the enemy – and it’s us again,” he added.