Solution Proposed for Area With Tainted Drinking Water

The East Hampton Town Board will move to create a water supply district in Wainscott to address concerns over contamination in an area near the East Hampton Airport, where perfluorinated compounds have been found in several residential wells. 

Suffolk County Health Department officials began a survey of water from private wells in the area of the airport in August. The survey area was later expanded, and on Tuesday Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc told his colleagues on the board that the most recent survey indicated that nine wells had levels of the toxic chemicals above the federal health advisory level and 126 others, while contaminated, had tested at levels below the advisory level. 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has identified the detected compounds — perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA — as “contaminants of emerging concern.” To protect the most sensitive populations, including fetuses and breastfed babies, against potential adverse health effects, the agency issued a health advisory level of .07 parts per billion. Studies on animals indicate that exposure to the two compounds over certain levels can also affect the thyroid, liver, and immune systems, and cause cancer, among other things. 

The town must confer with the State Department of Environmental Conservation and state Health Department to finalize the geographical boundaries of the district, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, but he predicted that it will extend beyond the survey’s present southern border at Wainscott Main Street.

Last month, the board declared its intention to pursue an inter-municipal water infrastructure grant, with the Suffolk County Water Authority as the lead agency in the partnership, to connect residential properties in the area of concern to public water. Given an expected lengthy timeline in which that could be accomplished, the town would make point-of-entry treatment systems available to homeowners with contaminated wells as soon as possible, board members agreed. 

Mr. Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday that it would take the Suffolk County Water Authority four to five months to extend water mains throughout the present survey area, which includes 398 properties, and that the water authority could simultaneously complete connections to residential properties as it proceeded along the mains’ route. “But the first order of business for us as a town board is to determine and designate a water supply district area, so we need to get that process started,” he said. This was the only course that would alleviate residents’ concern about the safety of their drinking water, he said.

Along with a designation of its boundaries, establishing a water supply district requires an engineering study, to be conducted by the water authority, the supervisor said. The town will seek grant money, he said, “and whatever the balance might be, we would pay out of general funds.” 

Creation of a water supply district would also be subject to a public hearing and, assuming the board passed a resolution in favor of it, a review by the state comptroller. Mr. Van Scoyoc said that, “if we move expeditiously,” that process could be completed by June. “Then we would begin construction as soon as possible after that.” 

However, he added, property owners would have to give consent to the water authority to connect their properties, and “to date, there’s still a number of homeowners . . . we’ve been unable to reach, to even let them know they need to get their water tested.” Officials including Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming support the proposal, and he expected no obstacles to its completion. “Everybody recognizes the importance of getting this done,” he said. “We need to move forward as quickly as possible.”

Councilman Jeffrey Bragman, the town board’s liaison to the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, said that the board will continue moving to make point-of-entry treatment systems available to affected property owners in the event the timetable for connecting them to public water is longer than anticipated. “It’s a better timeframe than I had hoped for,” he said. “But I want to be prepared in the event that something delays us a bit, so we’ll keep working on that as well.”