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$1.9M water main project connects East Quogue residents to public water supply

Newsday reporter Vera Chinese talks about East Quogue residents who are living in an area where private wells have been contaminated who can now tap into the public water supply after the completion of a town and state-funded $1.9 million water main project. (Credit: Barry Sloan)

East Quogue residents in an area where dozens of private wells have tested positive for contamination can now tap into the public water supply following the completion of a town- and state-funded $1.9 million water main project.

More than 10,000 feet of water mains have been added in East Quogue, allowing 115 property owners access to public water, Suffolk County Water Authority and Southampton Town officials announced Tuesday at a news conference. The mains are on West Side Avenue, Lakewood Avenue and other streets.

The water authority will also add another 2,300 feet of water mains on Lewis Road, allowing 11 more properties to connect. Authority officials said that is “in process.”

Public water, unlike private wells, is regularly tested and must meet state and federal drinking water standards.

Emerging contaminants perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) were detected in private wells in the community in 2018. The compounds, which were used in firefighting foam and nonstick items and have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because of their resistance to breaking down, have been linked to cancers, liver damage and developmental effects in fetuses and breast-fed infants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We’re finding chemicals that we’re sort of shocked to find in our water,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said during the news conference. “These are perfluorinated compounds, highly toxic; and everybody has the right to clean drinking water.”

Southampton Town is investigating a former town landfill on Damascus Road as well as Gabreski Airport as a possible contamination source, but has not reached any conclusions, Schneiderman said.

The compounds are not currently regulated, but the state Department of Health has proposed a drinking water standard of 10 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA.

Of the 98 wells tested in the area, 50 had some detection of PFOS and PFOA, with 11 above the drinking water standard expected to be adopted by the state, according to data provided by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

The water authority treats public wells containing PFOS and PFOA with carbon filtration, which brings the compounds down to undetectable levels, said Paul Kuzman, water authority director of maintenance and construction. The agency will install granular-activated carbon treatment systems at any well with a detection above 5 points per trillion, which is half the proposed state standard, a water authority spokesman said.

“This water is better than anything they are going to buy in a bottle or any other source,” said water authority board chairman Patrick Halpin.

Southampton Town last year had earmarked $4 million for the East Quogue Public Drinking Water Infrastructure project using the town’s Community Preservation Fund. The preservation fund is financed through a 2% tax on real estate transfers in the town, and 20% of that money can be used for water-quality initiatives. The town also received a $1 million state grant to offset the project’s cost.

Both the water authority and the town have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers of products containing PFOS and PFOA.

The town will fund property owners’ connection to the mains, a cost that could run in the thousands of dollars per home. 

West Side Avenue resident Nancy Fesnick, who said she did not have a PFOS or PFOA detection in her private well, said she chose to connect to the system out of caution. Fesnick, a breast cancer survivor whose husband, Steven, died of lung cancer in 2012, said she was thankful to the town for footing the bill, although she will pay income taxes on the work.

“I couldn’t afford to do this, being a widow,” she said.  “It’s thousands and thousands less than what I would have had to pay if I had to do it on my own.”

With David M. Schwartz

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