The owners of the former Wainscott sand mine have filed a lawsuit against East Hampton Town for unspecified damages due to the contamination of groundwater beneath the property by chemicals emanating from the nearby East Hampton Airport.
The lawsuit, filed by four limited liability companies, the owners of the 70-acre former mine, is only the latest link in a growing chain of legal wrangling since the discovery that two chemicals used for decades in firefighting foams have contaminated the groundwater flowing south from the airport and into the drinking water supplies of hundreds of homes in the hamlet and beyond.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and attorneys frees from the town as a cross-claim to the sand pit having been named in an earlier suit by the town as a possible second source of contamination — something the pit owner says is unfounded.
The contamination in Wainscott was discovered in the summer of 2017 after the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a directive to conduct water testing around airports where certain fire-suppressant foams particularly effective at smothering burning fuel had been used or stored.
Groundwater samples from around the airport property, and then from residential wells throughout the hamlet, were found to contain traces of PFOS-PFOA.
In May 2018, a Wainscott homeowner, Kim Shipman, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Wainscott residents against the town, which owns the airport property.
The town, in turn, sued the giant chemical corporation, 3M, which manufactured the compounds for use in a broad variety of moisture-resistant products from carpets to pizza boxes, as well as a group of companies that used the PFOS-PFOA in the manufacturing of fire-suppressant foams, known as aqueous film forming foams. The town also named East Hampton Village, the East Hampton Fire Department, the Bridgehampton Fire Department and Mr. Tintle’s corporation in its lawsuits, as possible culprits of the contamination.
Complicating matters, all of the legal jousting has been lumped in with more than 750 other similar lawsuits from around the country over PFOS-PFOA contamination and, at the request of 3M and its corporate co-defendants, moved to a single federal district court in South Carolina — forcing all of the plaintiffs to hire legal counsel in that state.
The latest suit claims that the contamination of groundwater beneath the property, detected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, was caused solely by the negligence of the town. It also says that town officials do not want the sand pit property to be redeveloped as a commercial-industrial park — an application which is pending before the town Planning Board — and have used the contamination lawsuit to try to derail the effort.
“We were, in our view, named as defendants by the town in their lawsuit seeking damages from PFOA-PFOS which, since then, have been determined by the DEC to be caused by the airport,” said David Eagan, the attorney for the Wainscott Commercial Center, as the proposal to the Planning Board is dubbed. “We were forced to obtain counsel in South Carolina, because they require that you use a local attorney, costing us tens of thousands of dollars.”
Mr. Eagan has said that an investigation of the sand pit property and the single fire training drill that took place there 20 years ago this month, have found that the contamination does not emanate from the sand pit property. Firefighters who participated in the drill said that the fire-fighting foam sprayed that day was not the same foam that contains PFOS-PFOA.
The state DEC is due to release its investigation of the sand pit property inn the near future.