Firefighter Foam Pollutes East Hampton Airport

Satellite image of East Hampton Airport from the state DEC's site survey for PFOS contamination. The areas in red are the four "Areas of Concern" where higher concentrations were found.

A recent survey of soil and groundwater samples from the East Hampton Airport property released early this month may have confirmed some peoples’ suspicions that the storage and use of firefighting foam there could be one source of toxic groundwater pollution that has affected at least 230 private water wells in the Wainscott area.

But East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the evidence so far suggests there is no plume of pollution flowing with groundwater south from the airport property and that there instead probably have been multiple sources for the spotty, random pattern of pollution that has been found in the area.

The same chemicals used in firefighting foam to resist heat, oil stains, grease and water “were used for 70 years in all sorts of industrial and consumer products,” he said on Wednesday, including dental floss and pizza boxes.

The pollution threat to private wells, first discovered in 2017 by the Suffolk County Water Authority, prompted the Town of East Hampton to declare an emergency in 2018 to expedite funding and the creation of a new public water district to serve about 500 homes in the area. As of last week, 124 homes had been connected to new mains that have been extended into the area. The town is providing bottled water to households not yet connected to the public water supply.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said about half the homes in the new Wainscott water district probably have polluted wells and will have to be connected to water mains. There other half have no pollution problem.

Called a “Site Characterization Report” that was prepared by an environmental contractor for the DEC’s Division of Environmental Remediation, the airport survey was based on soil and groundwater monitoring studies conducted last spring and summer.

It identifies four areas on the airport property where soil or groundwater contained levels of PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (including PFOS, perfluorooctane sulfonate, and PFOA, perfluoroctanoic acid), were found in soil or groundwater at levels higher than the 70 nanograms per liter set by the federal EPA “health advisory level.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc said the DEC in recent years became concerned about PFAS pollution near airports where firefighting foam is stored and is used for training and for crashes. A much more severe level of pollution has been found in the vicinity of Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, he noted. He said the DEC will be expanding its survey work to include other sites, including the former Wainscott Sand & Gravel pit just south of the airport.

All four sites at East Hampton Airport are linked to training locations or storage facilities where firefighting foam, which contains PFAS, has been kept or used for car fires, an aircraft crash landing, and training exercises.

Called “Areas of Concern” in the report, they are:

  • At the north end of Runway 16-34, straddling the clear zone on either side of Daniels Hole Road, where PFOS totaling 270 ng/L and PFOA totaling 17 ng/L was found in a groundwater monitoring well;
  • The parking lot, main terminal and ramp to the south of the terminal, where PFOS of 290 ng/L PFOS was detected;
  • The area around the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Facility just west of Industrial Road and the south side of the airport, where a reading of 174 ng/L combined PFOS/PFOA was detected;
  • And a site just north of and straddling the railroad tracks south of the airport, including the East Hampton Town Police Station, where there is a burn training structure. PFOA was detected thee at 160 ng/L.

Mike Ryan, the director of the DEC’s Division of Environmental Remediation, commented Wednesday that “additional study is needed to fully delineate the nature and extent of the identified contamination. This study will help inform appropriate cleanup measures and further DEC actions, and we will continue to keep the community informed as these investigations continue.”

Mr. Ryan said that residents with questions can contact site project manager Eric Obrecht at (518) 402-9764.