CCE addresses drinking water contamination

CCE addresses drinking water contamination


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Citizens Campaign for the Environment released a four-point action plan last month to address perfluorinated chemicals on Long Island. In conjunction with the plan, an online interactive map was included, showing a potential 287 Long Island sites that could have PFC contamination. 

These potential sites are identified as locations where PFC-containing fire-suppressant foam could have been used for fire training purposes. There are also four sites in Suffolk County known to have used PFC-based firefighting foam, which was invented in 1902 but hasn’t been used since 2002. 

These locations include East Hampton Airport, Hampton Bays Fire Department, Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach and Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank. Scientists say the chemicals seep into the ground, where they remain for extended periods of time. 

About 50 domestic wells in Westhampton were found to contain PFCs back in 2016. There were then three instances of contamination in Suffolk County last year. Multiple water wells in Yaphank, Hampton Bays and East Hampton tested positive for contaminants in April, August and October, respectively.

CCE has called for New York State to work with local counties to thoroughly assess these 287 sites to determine if PFC foam was used and conducted monitoring to see if the chemicals are present in groundwater. 

“PFCs are serious contaminants that threaten drinking water, our environment, and our health,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of CCE. “Potential long-term exposure effects can include decreased birth weight and cancers within the [kidney] and thyroid.” Esposito added that due to Long Island’s vulnerable aquifer system, agencies must continue to quickly identify contaminated sites and ensure the public is not drinking contaminated water. 

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently sent a survey to 174 fire departments across Nassau and Suffolk counties, asking about their use and storage of PFC firefighting foam. Ninety districts (52 percent) responded, 84 districts (48 percent) didn’t respond. 

Seventeen fire departments (79 percent of those responding) said the fire-suppression foam is currently being stored and/or used at their facility, while 60 (66 percent) said it was stored and/or used in the past. Nine (10 percent) are uncertain of the latter. 

Twenty-three (25 percent) said the foam has been used for training purposes only. Fourteen (15 percent) are uncertain. Twelve (13 percent) said the foam has been used for firefighting and other emergency response purposes at the facility. Fourteen (15 percent) are uncertain.

One facility admitted to a spill or leak of the fire-suppression foam. Six are uncertain. Forty-seven (52 percent) have been responsible for the use of the foam at a location other than the facility. Ten (9 percent) are uncertain. 

“The preliminary results of this important DEC survey illustrates there is great potential for additional contamination sites that may be impacting our groundwater,” Esposito said. 

“Unfortunately, the more we look for PFC contamination, the more we will find it.”

CCE is advocating for a four-point action plan to address the threat of PFC contamination. It first calls for NYS DEC to work in conjunction with Nassau and Suffolk counties to accurately identify all fire training facilities, fire departments and airports that used or stored fire-suppressant foam containing PFCs. “The survey is a great step forward, but we need to follow up on the 48 percent that have not yet responded,” CCE wrote in a press release.

Second, it calls for NYS DEC to continue working with health departments to install and evaluate monitoring wells down gradient from facilities discovered to be the source of PFC contamination, or known to have used or stored PFC-containing fire-suppressant foam. “CCE is pleased that the DEC is rapidly working to install wells down gradient of identified contamination,” the organization added. 

It then calls for NYS to provide funding in the 2018 budget for Suffolk County Department of Health Services to upgrade their laboratory to include testing equipment for PFCs. Currently, all Long Island samples for PFCs are sent to the Wadsworth Center in the Capital Region for testing, causing a backlog and delay in results. “The NYS budget also needs to ensure DEC has adequate staff and funding to address monitoring wells, water testing and remediation for this emerging contamination,” the statement continued.

Lastly, it calls for NYS to establish a health-based drinking water standard for PFCs as quickly as possible.

A link to the interactive map is found here: