Town Responds at County Issues Water Quality Advisory in Wainscott

East Hampton Town Hall.

By Kathryn G. Menu

The Suffolk County Health Department will test at least 296 wells in Wainscott after its Department of Health Services identified perflourinated compounds (PFCs) — chemicals tied to a number of health issues — in some private wells, including one well where PFCs exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory level.

The Department of Health Services began testing wells in specific areas around the East Hampton Airport as part of a larger effort to examine water quality after finding polluted wells in other parts of Long Island, including near the Air National Guard base at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach. According to a release issued by the Department of Health Services, the EPA has issued health advisories for two PFCs — perfluorooctane (PFOS) and perflurorooctanoic (PFOA) — as chemicals used in a number of industrial and commercial products such as firefighting foam, and coatings that repel water, oil, stains and grease. According to the EPA fact sheet on PFCs, studies show exposure to these chemicals over certain levels may results in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses and breastfed infants, cancer, liver damage, immune effects and thyroid disorders.

With the potential for PFCs to contaminate the environment, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation conducted a survey of facilities across the state that may have used products containing PFOS and PFOA, identifying the East Hampton Airport as a facility that had used or stored those kind of products, prompting the county to begin testing.

The county health department wants to sample close to 300 private wells around the airport, based on groundwater flow, according to East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, who spoke about the situation during a work session on Tuesday. The testing area is the area bounded on the north by the East Hampton Airport, on the west by Town Line Road, on the south by Montauk Highway extending toward Merriwood Drive and on the east by Daniel’s Hole Road, according to the Department of Health. Homeowners can contact the department’s Office of Water Resources at (631) 852-5810 to arrange for testing. According to Mr. Cantwell, the county is also notifying homeowners via mail and will conduct door-to-door notifications as well.

As a precaution, the town has offered bottled water for any homeowner with a private well in the test area. Residents can call the town’s Purchasing Department at (631) 324-4183 or email to receive bottled water. According to Mr. Cantwell, 31 residents had signed up for the water by Tuesday afternoon.

“Obviously, we are receiving our share of phone calls,” Mr. Cantwell said during Tuesday’s work session. “People are anxious to come up with conclusions about what may or may not have happened here, what the source is. It is premature to come to any conclusion about the source. The first step, as I have tried to explain to people, is to get the tests done as soon as possible. We need the property owners’ cooperation and, as of yesterday, we were urging the Suffolk County Health Department to move more expeditiously.

“I think they need to move more quickly, they need to get their tests done more quickly and get their results to assure people in respect to each one of these wells,” Mr. Cantwell added.

The Supervisor cautioned those jumping to conclusions about the cause of the potential contamination.

“At the moment, it is really wrong to come to a conclusion about the extent of the problem or the source of it,” he said. “People will speculate about it — and I understand the source of that speculation and concern — but let’s do this right, let’s do this carefully and make sure we protect public health and we will come to conclusions as the facts lead us to what those proper conclusions may be.”