An amendment to a U.S. Senate appropriations bill that passed Thursday will give Suffolk County a share of up to $45 million allotted to communities and states to clean up contamination, including at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, where toxins have been linked to training exercises conducted by the Air National Guard.
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) sponsored the amendment and announced its passage as part of the fiscal 2019 Defense Appropriations bill. The amendment authorizes the Air Force and the National Guard to reimburse local communities and states for the cleanup of polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a group of manufactured chemicals that resist degradation. The bill must still pass the House.
“Suffolk County and its Water Authority deserves to be repaid for the actions they took to respond to the contamination of their water supplies and private wells due to toxic PFOS contamination that originated at Gabreski,” Schumer said in the news release.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation added the 89-acre defense facility to the state Superfund list in September 2016 after sampling of water supplies near the base detected perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS. The chemicals were part of a liquid foam that firefighters used at the air base to practice extinguishing airplane fires.
Studies have linked PFOS exposure over certain levels to blood, immune system, thyroid and fetal growth issues, according to a fact sheet from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In March 2017, about 200 Westhampton Beach residents sued Suffolk County, the state and PFOS manufacturers, alleging residents were exposed to the chemical in water near the airport.
The Suffolk County Water Authority filed a lawsuit in November 2017 against firefighting foam manufacturers, and in June, New York State sued six companies that manufactured the foam.
“No New Yorker should ever have to worry about whether their drinking water is going to make them sick, and it’s time for the federal government to do its part and reimburse communities like Westhampton Beach for this expensive cleanup,” Gillibrand said in the news release.
Suffolk County Water Authority spokesman Tim Motz said Thursday that agency officials would meet Friday at Gabreski with representatives from Schumer’s office to discuss details of the cleanup. Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said the meeting would also detail Schumer’s plan for getting the appropriations bill approved by the House.
“SCWA ratepayers should not have to pay for the negligence of those responsible for contaminating groundwater supplies in the vicinity of Gabreski Airport, and so we want to thank Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for working hard to secure funding to help us recoup some of the costs associated with making sure perfluorinated chemicals do not enter the public drinking water supply,” Suffolk County Water Authority Chairman James Gaughran said Thursday in a statement.