Contaminated Water Targeted in 2018

One of the good things here in 2018 could just as easily have turned out to be a tangled mess. After chemicals known to be harmful to health and the environment were found in groundwater in Wainscott, East Hampton Town, county officials, and the Suffolk Water Authority moved with remarkable speed to protect residents.

While the physical source of the contamination has not been identified, and may never be, residents were offered bottled water immediately and a water main’s extension went into overdrive. Now, just over a year since the scope of the challenge became evident, contractors are near completion of eight-and-a-half miles of new water main, able to provide safe drinking water to the approximately 520 properties in the area affected by compounds used in industrial applications and, perhaps most relevant, firefighting foam.

Questions remain to be answered, however. Some will be dealt with in court, in lawsuits by the town, state, and county against the foam manufacturers and fire departments that used the foam in the past at a practice site near East Hampton Airport. Other issues include the high cost of connecting houses to the water mains, which can run into tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the distance and complexity of the terrain. Also of concern is what might lurk in drinking water elsewhere in New York. Similar contamination has been identified upstate in Newburgh, Plattsburgh, and Rome, and on Long Island in Patchogue, Islip, Bohemia, Bethpage, and Medford. The list goes on.

Then there is a big unknown of the long-term effect on wildlife. Groundwater in the affected area tends to move toward Georgica and Wainscott Ponds. PFOS and PFOA, as the chemicals are called, accumulate in air-breathing animals, increasing in concentration as they move up the food chain. The long-term environmental impact might be years away from becoming known.