Few Opt for Filtration Rebates. But Why?

A lengthy and at times testy exchange between members of the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday illustrated tensions over the board’s response to the discovery of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, in more than 150 residential wells in Wainscott. 

Councilman Jeff Bragman, the board’s liaison to the hamlet’s citizens advisory committee, had asked that the topic be put on Tuesday’s work session agenda. At issue, the town’s program to offer rebates for the installation of point-of-entry water treatment systems to property owners whose wells were found to be contaminated. Rebates of up to 90 percent, not to exceed $3,000, are offered to affected property owners who submit an invoice attesting to a system’s purchase and installation and an affidavit, signed by the system’s installer.

The program followed the board’s declaration of a state of emergency and was created as an interim measure pending the Suffolk County Water Authority’s extension of water mains to affected properties, which may not be completed before year’s end. 

Mr. Bragman, who has been the most vocal member of the board as to the urgency presented by perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, referred on Tuesday to recent media reports that the federal Environmental Protection Agency may have suppressed a study that would have increased warnings about PFCs, which have been found in water supplies across the country. They have been linked to cancers, thyroid problems, and serious complications of pregnancy. 

“It’s somewhat alarming,” Mr. Bragman said. “I’ve said before that these chemicals are very dangerous. They’re endocrine disruptors, which means that very minute amounts can cause damage to the human body.” 

Yet just 11 point-of-entry treatment systems, or POETs, have been installed in Wainscott, he said, and suggested that language in the affidavit declaring “that the installer was making a representation that the filtration system was capable of filtering PFOS and PFOA” is responsible for the low number. “That’s a tricky statement, and it caused some hesitation in a couple of the companies” because “there is no standard set by any agencies — state or federal — that establishes safety limits for these systems.” The wording of the affidavit, he said after the meeting, left installers fearful of potential liability and legal jeopardy. 

The town is relying on a schematic drawing provided by the State Department of Environmental Conservation “for a filtration system that works,” he said. He proposed changing the wording of materials given to the public to include the D.E.C.’s recommended POET design and removing any assertions from the installer’s affidavit. “If we simply change the representation from the installer’s affidavit to our paperwork that we hand to people so that it says, ‘This is the D.E.C. system,’ we’ve done our job in giving people the information that they need to get the system that’s going to work in their house,” said Mr. Bragman, who is an attorney. The systems, he said, “are urgently needed to minimize exposure.” 

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that he agreed that guaranteeing safe drinking water to Wainscott residents should be done expeditiously, but disagreed as to the affidavit. “There has to be some acknowledgement that the system that’s been installed actually does what it’s supposed to do,” he said. “If the installer is not willing to state that the system they installed actually filters out these chemicals, I don’t think we should be committing public funds to those.” 

Among at least five companies installing POETs, just one has raised concerns about the affidavit, the supervisor said. He asserted that few systems have been installed because Wainscott residents know that public water will soon be extended to their neighborhoods, “and that they will be expending their funds for the service line connections in the form of additional taxes on their tax bill.” The grant may leave them still owing thousands of dollars, he said, “because in some cases these systems are significantly higher than the amount that you suggested we grant.” 

In fact, Mr. Bragman countered, “The costs of the system are coming in under what we’ve granted.” The point, he said, “is that it’s not a sensible decision to refrain from putting in a home filtration system because public water may be coming in months, or longer. . . . This is about risk reduction. . . . If we can simplify the language and get one of the larger companies to participate here, I think we should do it. I think we should get the word out and be encouraging people to put these in.” 

The largest installer’s discomfort over the affidavit is not a reason to change protocol, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “There are more than enough companies out here to serve the public and install these. I strongly feel that we shouldn’t be committing public funds for something that doesn’t do the job. . . . How would you verify it without an affidavit from the installer that the system does the job that it’s supposed to do?” Based on calls to his office, he said, “people will decide on their own as to whether or not they want to sign up for this program.” Some residents are weighing whether or not to continue relying on the bottled water the town has provided since discovery of the PFCs was announced in October until they are connected to public water, he said.  

“That is not a wise decision,” Mr. Bragman said, “and we should be counseling people.”

“That’s a decision they’re allowed to make on their own,” the supervisor replied. 

  The board will vote on a resolution at tonight’s meeting to enter into an intermunicipal agreement with the Suffolk County Water Authority that will pave the way for grant funding to offset the cost of extending the public water mains throughout Wainscott, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. The grant could cover the lesser of $10 million or 40 percent of the project’s cost. 

That is a good step, Mr. Bragman said, “but it’s a complicated matrix of government entities involved, and it’s going to take a while before they get actual water supply systems. In the interim, I would urge everybody in Wainscott who’s got a well contamination issue to come and get a home filtration system installed.”