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East Hampton Town, companies sued over contaminated wells

Tests show some wells near the East Hampton

Tests show some wells near the East Hampton Airport, seen Nov. 16, 2016, are contaminated. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A Wainscott homeowner is suing several chemical manufacturers and East Hampton Town over contamination of private wells near East Hampton Airport.

The town had permitted local fire departments to use the airport for drills using aqueous film-forming foam, which is believed to contain perfluorooctanoic acid and/or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOA and PFOS, according to the suit. The suit also notes that other businesses on nearby town-owned properties, potentially including a carpet cleaning company, could have contributed to the contamination.

It alleges the town acted negligently in allowing businesses to operate on those properties, “while using chemicals manufactured by the other defendants and allowing those chemicals to be released into the water supply.”

The suit, filed on behalf of Westgate Road resident Kim Ellen Shipman and others “similarly situated,” calls for the defendants to pay for medical monitoring, immediate hookup to water filtration systems, connection to a municipal water source and unspecified monetary damages for diminished property values in the affected area.

“For years these residents have been drinking water laced with dangerous chemicals,” states the complaint filed by attorney Daniel Osborn in state Supreme Court on Wednesday. “These innocent bystanders had no way to know that they were consuming water with PFOS and PFOA until the contamination was disclosed to them by East Hampton Town officials in or about October 2017.”

Exposure to the perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, can affect the immune system and fetal health and development, as well as cause liver damage, cancer and thyroid problems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said. Of 246 Wainscott wells that have been tested for PFCs, 118 have been found to contain traces of the contaminants, according to the suit.

The 3M Company, Angus Fire, The Ansul Company, Buckeye Fire Protection Company, Chemguard and National Foam are named as defendants, as well as the town.

East Hampton Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski and a Chemguard spokesman declined to comment due to the pending litigation. A 3M spokeswoman said the company “acted responsibly at all times” and will “vigorously defend this lawsuit.” The contamination likely occurred decades ago. 3M stopped manufacturing AFFF containing PFCs in 2002.

Representatives from the other firms did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the town is offering bottled water to residents in the affected area and has discussed remediation for the problem.

During a March 6 town board work session, Councilman Jeff Bragman called for the town to immediately install point of entry water filtration systems at the affected properties.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he agreed with Bragman that the issue was a priority and that the town could put out a request for proposals to install the systems while it waits for water mains to be connected in the area. Only 11 homes out of what the lawsuit says is an estimated 300 in the affected area can immediately hook up to public water, he said.

The Hampton Bays Water District filed a similar lawsuit against some of those same companies last month after three of the 11 wells in the district were found to be contaminated with PFCs. The Suffolk County Water Authority also filed a federal lawsuit against those manufacturers last year to recoup the cost of removing the contaminants from the public water supply.

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