East Hampton Town Hits Back with Own Suit Over Water Contamination

A survey that was done earlier this year on private wells in Wainscott.

East Hampton Town, itself a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a Wainscott resident over contaminated drinking water discovered in the hamlet, has filed a lawsuit of its own — against chemical manufacturing companies, a local mining operation and even some neighboring municipal entities.

The Bridgehampton Fire District and the Village of East Hampton, which manages the East Hampton Fire Department, are named in the suit, along with Wainscott Sand and Gravel and other local and national industrial entities.

The East Hampton Town Board on December 20 voted to hire Rigano LLC, a Melville law firm, to handle the new suit as well as the case in which East Hampton is a defendant.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said Monday the suit is largely a response to Wainscott resident Kim Shipman’s class action suit, which has now been removed to a federal court out-of-state.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers in the town to protect them from a potential liability,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “We believe that others are responsible and that the costs associated with the damages should be borne by those responsible parties.”

East Hampton Town is seeking damages to cover the costs of providing bottled water to Wainscott residents whose wells were found to contain perfluorinated compounds, as well as the cost of connecting their homes to the public water supply. East Hampton also wants to cover the costs of investigating, treating and remediating the environmental conditions on its properties and surrounding areas, therefore “protecting the public health, safety, welfare and the environment.” The town also seeks indemnification for any liability assessed against it in Ms. Shipman’s case.

The Bridgehampton Fire District and East Hampton Fire Department are named in the suit because they used aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) in training exercises and actual firefighting activities in Wainscott near the town airport, where the East Hampton Fire Districts Training Facility is located on Industrial Road. The sand pit’s ownership is named in the suit because it allowed firefighting training on its property. AFFF contains perfluorinated compounds, which have been found to have negative impacts on hormones, immune systems, child development and other bodily functions.

Beginning in October 2017, these substances were found above Environmental Protection Agency health advisory levels in the wells of more than 230 out of approximately 300 residences in the “area of concern” in Wainscott.

“As the impacted private wells do not have treatment … Wainscott residents were drinking contaminated water potentially for decades,” East Hampton’s suit reads. “As a consequence of the … contamination within the private wells and the groundwater throughout the town, many residents are at risk of developing adverse health effects.”

East Hampton Town began working on solutions, immediately providing free bottled water to residents in the affected area. The town also pushed for the creation of a public water district in Wainscott, with the installation of public water mains recently completed.

East Hampton Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. could not be reached for comment. Representatives of the Bridgehampton Fire District could not be reached for comment. John Tintle, who owns Wainscott Sand and Gravel, also could not be reached for comment.

“I guess the unfortunate part of this type of litigation is you have to paint with a very broad brush to cover all types of parties that might have some involvement at all,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “I did make a phone call to the mayor before Christmas and I apologized to him that this is what was going to happen. It’s the way the legal system works and certainly there’s no malice against the village or the fire departments. This is just a necessary step in protecting the taxpayers in the town and ultimately seeking the damages from the responsible parties.”

Several chemical companies, many of which are also facing similar lawsuits around the country, are named in the suit because certain products they produce — which have been used in materials that are resistant to water, stains or grease, such as Teflon — also contain perfluorinated compounds.

“Defendants’ design, development, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, supply, sale, use, storage and/or allowance of use of AFFF, Scotchgard, Teflon and other products … which are hazardous substances, in an unremediated, unmonitored, unreported and unsecured condition, constitutes ultrahazardous activity,” East Hampton’s suit reads.

East Hampton Town Board member Jeff Bragman, who worked closely on solutions to the Wainscott water contamination issues, said it’s fairly common in a case like this “to see parties bringing in other parties.”

“In this context, this is an effort to make sure that the costs are shared and every entity that may have had an involvement in creating this type of damage to the water is a party, so that the liability can be sorted out,” he said Wednesday. “While they’re called emerging contaminants, they have been around since the 1960s. The manufacturers have been fighting lawsuits like these since the 1960s. Over time, they have been found liable for the failure to contain these chemicals.”