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Southampton Town slow to address East Quogue pollution, residents say

Town officials haven't decided on a course of action for the area, where 45 private wells tested positive for pollutants the EPA links to some cancers and other health impacts.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he is

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he is awaiting data from Suffolk County after a high reading at Gabreski Airport in October to determine how to move forward in addressing contamination.   Photo Credit: John Roca

Southampton Town officials have not acted quickly to address water contamination in East Quogue, residents and an elected official said this week, but town representatives maintain they are responding as judiciously as they can.

Town officials have yet to decide on a plan for remediation in the area, where 45 private wells tested positive for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), chemicals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has linked to cancers and other health impacts.

The contamination was discovered at a monitoring well in a long-closed town landfill, but Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he is awaiting county data after a high reading at Gabreski Airport in October to determine how to move forward.

Residents criticized the town for its slow response as well as suspending free bottled water service in August as a cost-saving measure. Neighbors have formed the East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee to consider incorporation as a response to the water contamination and other issues.

“We live in the Hamptons and we can’t drink our water,” said Cyndi McNamara, of East Quogue.

The EPA uses a nonenforceable health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion as a safety guideline, although many, including Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), have called for a standard no greater than 11 parts per trillion. Two wells in East Quogue were above 70 parts per trillion level and received a water filtration system from the state. Three were between 20 and 62.8 parts per trillion and 40 were below 20. The contaminants weren't found in 46 tested wells.

That data was not available until July, making it difficult to apply for funding sources earlier, said Southampton Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone.

Town officials have said they plan to apply for an intermunicipal grant in January to fund the remediation work and are awaiting approval from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office to use Community Preservation Fund money to potentially offset the cost. That fund is financed through a tax on real estate transfers in the town to finance open-space acquisition and water-quality protection.

“Instead of acting first to get public water, they, in my opinion, lost a lot of time because they were trying to find somebody else to pay for it,” Thiele said of town officials.

The existing public water system would have to be extended to 106 properties at a cost of $1.3 million, Suffolk County Water Authority chief executive Jeff Szabo said earlier this month. But the agency cannot perform the work in subfreezing temperatures, he said. Of those wells with contamination, 44 homes are available for immediate hookup but have not yet opted to do so.

In East Hampton Town, where PFOS and PFOA were detected in more than 200 wells in Wainscott, officials broke ground on a town-funded project with the water authority to add 45,000 feet of water mains in August, just months after the first detection was announced in October 2017.

East Hampton officials agreed to borrow the money upfront while applying for the $9.7 million state grant that was received in September. Town officials also borrowed money for individual homeowners to connect to the mains — an expense that can run thousands of dollars, but residents can pay that back on their tax bills over 20 years — and paid to install point-of-entry water treatment systems.

“They [East Hampton Town] felt they were the source of the contamination. I haven’t made that determination yet,” Schneiderman said.

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