L.I. lawmakers asking state to help provide clean drinking water for east-enders

Gabreski Air Field is being looked at as one of the main culprits of contaminated drinking water on the east end of Long Island.

In response to an increased rate of contaminants found in private wells across Long Island’s East End, lawmakers are calling on aid from Albany to provide clean drinking water to residents.

Polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are rapidly becoming a threat to the East End’s various private wells. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFAs are “a category of man-made chemicals that are found in everyday items including food packaging, nonstick products and stain repellent fabrics.”

“Eastern Long Island is under siege from water contamination,” said Assemblyman Fred Thiele, I-Sag Harbor. “Nitrogen, emerging chemicals, algal blooms and more present growing threats to our water.”

These chemicals can build up and remain in the human body for extended periods of time. According to the EPA, the presence of PFAS in human beings can cause low infant birth weights, detrimental effects on the immune system, cancer and thyroid hormone disruption.

To combat this threat, Thiele and Sen. Kenneth LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, are calling on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Department of Health to assist in decontamination of private wells.

The DOH and DEC have already sent Water Quality Rapid Response Teams, whose purpose is to “spring into action and work closely with our partners in local government to immediately alert the public wherever contaminates are detected and ensure plans are in place to quickly provide access to safe, clean drinking water,” according to a joint statement from both agencies.

“Remediation can take many forms,” said Sean Mahar, a spokesman for the DEC. “It depends on where the contamination is and how far it spreads. It can be soil removal, putting ground water into separate wells, but always at the forefront of our mind is protecting public health.”

It is not clear how long the cleanup will take, or how costly it may be. However, none of that cost will fall on taxpayers. Instead, the Department of Environmental Conservation is looking for a responsible party or organization which would then reimburse the state for any costs incurred during their cleanup efforts.

According to the DEC, this responsible party seems to be the U.S. Department of Defense, which operated the Air National Guard base at Gabreski airport, which was declared a Superfund site in 2016. The base has been used as a firefighter training site in the past. Sites like these often use flame retardant foams containing PFAS, which can seep into the groundwater.

However, LaValle said the issue of contamination has spread beyond the immediate area surrounding the Gabreski base, affecting both East and West Hampton, as well as properties in East Quogue.

While the cleanup of these chemicals is going smoothly, with the DEC supplying affected homes with bottled water and water filters, and connecting as many affected homes to water mains as possible, LaValle is demanding a long-term solution.

“I think the state and county have been very proactive in finding areas where these chemicals exist but we need a more comprehensive plan to extend public water to these affected areas,” LaValle said.