Health Department Expands Water Quality Testing in Wainscott

A map detailing an expanded area the Suffolk County Health Department plans to survey for potential well water contamination. Map courtesy of the Suffolk County Health Department.

The Suffolk County Health Department announced Monday it has expanded its survey of water wells near the East Hampton Airport, after perfluorinated compounds were found in a private water well in the original area being canvased for contamination. The testing area has been expanded south and west, including portions of Southampton Town for the first time since health department officials began testing private wells for PFOS and PFOA last fall.

The announcement comes a week after the town board approved the creation of a Wainscott Water Supply District, a new taxing district that will enable the town to extend public water throughout the hamlet as county and state officials investigate the cause of contamination. To date, roughly 140 homes in Wainscott had wells test positive for trace amount of the compounds — with a handful of properties showing over the 70 parts-per-trillion health advisory suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The expanded area for testing includes Merchants Path to the north, Wainscott Harbor Road continuing onto Wainscott Hollow Road to the west, to the Atlantic Ocean to the south and extending to Georgica Pond to the east. While health department officials said this week they would reach out to individual homeowners in the affected area, residents can also contact the Office of Water Resources at (631) 852-5810 to have their wells tested free of charge.

The health department also encouraged residents to use bottled drinking water until their wells have been tested. The Town of East Hampton Purchasing Department can set up that service and residents can reach that office by calling (631) 852-5810; residents of the Town of Southampton who are impacted are also eligible for water and should call (631) 283-6055. Homes already connected to public water through the Suffolk County Water Authority do not need to have their water tested: PFOS and PFOA have been detected in the drinking water supply that serves Wainscott.

On the South Fork, PFOA and PFOS have been detected in wells near the former Damascus Road landfill in East Quogue, in Hampton Bays and in Westhampton Beach, as well as sites in western Suffolk County.

On Wednesday, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the town had no clear timeline from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on when it would conclude its investigation into the source of contamination. He also said that while expanding the now approved Wainscott Water Supply District may or may not be feasible, if there are homes impacted outside of the supply district the town would be responsive in ensuring that safe, public water is available.

“We don’t expect it to be a significant number of properties outside of the current boundary,” he said, adding that the town did not feel it could wait to bring public water to the hamlet until the county and state concluded its own investigation.

“We needed to move to ensure confidence in the quality of drinking water,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc.

While the East Hampton Airport did store firefighting foam on-site — it is one of the reasons the county began water testing private wells near the airport — Mr. Van Scoyoc said Wednesday that “the investigation is ongoing and there has not been any conclusive locations identified.” He added that PFOA and PFOS has been used for over 70 years in a variety of products including coatings that repel water, oil repellants, degreasers and stain removers like Scotch Guard.

“There may be multiple sources and the detections to date indicate no single plume,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “There is a large industrial site and other industrial uses in the area, and residential products have contained these chemicals as well.” It takes very little, he noted, for the chemicals to contaminate a water source at the EPA health advisory level.

“It is something like 19 drops in a 30,000-gallon swimming pool,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “We will see where this goes but it is better not to speculate about what the source is but work instead to provide safe drinking water while the investigation continues.”