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Schumer, Gillibrand ask Air National Guard to help residents

Scott Proser helps load water bottles that will

Scott Proser helps load water bottles that will be distributed to residents in Westhampton Beach on Friday, July 23, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

Two U.S. senators are calling on the Air National Guard to “immediately provide all of the necessary resources” to ensure residents around its Gabreski airport base have access to clean drinking water, after a hazardous chemical was found in seven private water wells in the area.

In a letter to be sent Saturday, senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats from New York, urged the Air National Guard to pay for testing drinking water supplies, providing bottled drinking water and “remediating the pollution as quickly as possible.”

Suffolk County last week began testing the first of 85 private drinking water wells in priority areas south of Gabreski airport after the state Department of Environmental Conservation informed it of an investigation into the presence of PFOS in water around the airport.

PFOS, a fluorinated organic compound listed as hazardous by New York State, was in firefighting foam used by the Air National Guard in training and firefighting exercises at Gabreski airport, according to the county.

The chemical is considered a contaminant of emerging concern, so its health impacts are not fully understood. But state health officials said it is possibly linked to blood, immune system, thyroid, and fetal growth effects.

While the base has not yet been definitively confirmed to be the cause of the contamination, the state has said it suspects it to be the source.

Last week, the National Guard Bureau — which oversees the Air National Guard — agreed in principle to pay for hooking up residents who rely on private wells to the public water supply system, according to county and state officials. Public water is tested and treated to remove PFOS, among other contaminants.

The National Guard Bureau did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

“Suffolk County homeowners and municipalities should not be on the hook for even a drip of the costs of PFOS water contamination that resulted from Air National Guard operations at Gabreski,” Schumer said in a statement. “Signs clearly point to the operations at the base as the source of this pollution and so the ANG must commit to fully compensating the community, the county and impacted homeowners.”

After the DEC announced its investigation, the county began handing out bottled water to residents on private wells south of the airport, in the direction groundwater flows, as a precautionary measure.

But this week, the county announced that test results found that seven private wells were found to contain PFOS, with four testing above 0.07 parts per billion, the health advisory level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We thank our U.S. senators for advocating for full funding from the Air National Guard to complete the investigation and cover the cleanup costs as well as fund the connection costs to public water for those residents affected,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement.

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