Residents Urged to Get Well Tests

Tests of water from Wainscott residents’ wells for the presence of two toxic compounds linked to health problems continued this week under the auspices of the county and state Health  Departments. The agencies are screening for the presence of perfluorinated chemicals in wells near the industrial areas where the chemicals, called PFCs, had been used.

With lab results in for 24 of the 70 samples taken so far in a targeted area south of the East Hampton Airport, there have been no additional detections of the PFCs in question, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA), at levels beyond a federal “lifetime health advisory” threshold. One resident’s well was found to have the chemicals at that concentration several weeks ago. 

However, the chemicals were detected in 15 of the wells that were tested, though at extremely low levels.

As of this week, East Hampton Town is delivering bottled water to more than 60 residents who, concerned about the safety of their water, have requested it. 

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, levels of PFOS and PFOA in water should not exceed .07 parts per billion, or 70 parts per trillion. At 13 of the 15 wells where either or both of those chemicals were found, the levels measured under 20 parts per trillion, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell reported Tuesday. At two of the wells the levels were higher, he said, though still only a fraction of the E.P.A. threshold.

The chemicals in question are not formally regulated but are considered “emerging contaminants,” with federal health advisory levels set to protect the most vulnerable, such as breast-fed babies and fetuses.

A New York State laboratory is conducting the tests for PFCs, while the county Health Department lab, using a second water sample from each well, is testing for a broad range of contaminants, such as pesticides, metals, volatile organic compounds, and bacteria. Those results are pending. Lab results are reported to homeowners by phone and in writing.

Mr. Cantwell this week again urged Wainscott residents in the targeted zone, which now includes 246 properties with private wells, to consent to the free water testing. Sixty-three new requests for testing have recently been received, he said, but more than 100 property owners have still not responded to letters from the Health Department, or in-person visits from department representatives.

The testing zone was established by the Health Department based on groundwater flow and the nature of the chemical contaminants, and excludes properties served by the Suffolk County Water Authority, which does regular testing on the water it provides.

“The key is for homeowners to sign up for the tests and for the Health Department to get them done,” said Mr. Cantwell. “We need to have a much more complete picture of what’s happening.” The State Department of Environmental Conservation “will be the lead agency in investigating the source,” he said. 

Groundwater contaminated by perfluorinated chemicals has been found in several areas of Long Island, including parts of Yaphank and Westhampton Beach near sites where firefighting foam has been used. 

In the past, the E.P.A. has made efforts to eliminate the use of both PFOS and PFOA, and chemicals that degrade to them. Between 2000 and 2002, PFOS “was voluntarily phased out of production in the U.S. by its primary manufacturer, 3M,” according to an E.P.A. advisory. However, the agency continues to allow a limited set of ongoing uses for PFOS, including in fire-resistant aviation hydraulic fluids, metal finishing and plating, and photography and film products. 

The federal agency also reports that, at its request, eight major companies phased out the use of PFOA by the end of 2015. Early last year, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of both chemicals in food packaging.