Remediation efforts are expected to begin within the year at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, where the Department of Defense was found responsible for contaminating the groundwater supply with “forever" chemicals, and a toxic Superfund site was declared in 2016.
The federal government awarded a $4 million contract to AECOM, an international construction engineering firm based in Dallas; the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers; and the Air National Guard for the remedial investigation, according to the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The funding was granted after the Army Corps of Engineers, providing technical support to the Air National Guard, completed a site inspection. The National Guard operates a base at the site.
“The news of this contract is an important step forward in cleaning up the toxic PFAS pollution at Gabreski that has seeped into private and public water supply wells south of the base,” Schumer said in a statement, adding that he expects the investigation to “reveal the full extent” of contamination at the site.
AECOM will be the lead agency on the project and is expected to begin by collecting samples at the site within the next 8 to 10 months, said James D’Ambrosio, a spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers. Schumer said the investigation also will determine exposure pathways and the risk to human and environmental health. That information will be used to develop a plan to mitigate spread and remediate the area, Schumer’s office said.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Remediation efforts are expected to begin within the year at Gabreski Airport, where the Department of Defense was found responsible for contaminating the groundwater supply.
- The federal government awarded a $4 million contract to AECOM, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Air National Guard for the remedial investigation, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer's office.
- Previous testing has shown evidence of high levels of "forever" chemicals at the airport and in stormwater and private wells in the surrounding area, according to a 2020 draft report. The chemicals could lead to cancer or other health problems, experts have said.
Previous testing efforts have shown evidence of high levels of PFAS and PFOA at the airport and in stormwater and private wells in the surrounding area, according to an Air National Guard contractor’s draft report released in 2020 and made public by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Exposure to the forever chemicals could lead to cancer or other health problems, experts said.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the Department of Defense repeatedly has denied its responsibility for contamination at sites on Long Island and elsewhere, delaying remediation efforts.
“The longer the contaminant is in the groundwater, the more it spreads, and it doesn't go away, because these are forever chemicals,” Esposito said.
In 2014, the Suffolk County Department of Health began testing private wells in the neighborhood south of the base and a former firefighter training area at the airport for PFAS and PFOA, chemicals in firefighting foam used at the airport since the 1970s. By 2017, after the chemicals were detected, houses still using private wells were hooked up to public water through the Suffolk County Water Authority.
Ed Kurosz, who lives on nearby Liberty Street in Westhampton Beach, said his home was among the residences moved to public water. He said during the testing stage that it was not made clear to him any contamination had been detected. In December 2017, he was told by the county that he must immediately abandon the well at the home where three generations of his family had lived since the 1940s. Bottled water was then delivered to the home.
“The urgency was frightening,” Kurosz said. “But I had no validation from them as to what was creating their urgency.”
He said the lack of direct information shared with him has forced him to wonder if there is any link to the contamination and health issues his family members have suffered from over the years, questions he believes he may never have answers to. Other community members have been engaged in litigation with chemical manufacturers and Suffolk County since 2017.
Elyse Richman of nearby Rogers Avenue was among 161 participants in a state Department of Health blood testing program in 2018 that was used to determine toxic levels in residents living in the surrounding area. A preliminary report released in June 2019 showed that of the 11 toxic chemicals tested for, two of them, including PFOS, were detected at levels slightly higher than the national average. The study concluded there “could have been exposures from the public drinking water supply.”
In the years following the declaration of the airport as a Superfund site, the abandonment of wells, and efforts like the blood study, Richman said she assumed the contamination issues were under control. The announcement of remediation efforts gives her new cause for concern.
“What was done in all these years?” she asked.
With Vera Chinese