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East End towns take legal action over chemicals found in water wells

East Hampton Town filed a suit against chemical manufacturers and others. Southampton Town hired a law firm in case of possible similar litigation.

Luggage is taken to a jet at East

Luggage is taken to a jet at East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott on Thursday. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Southampton and East Hampton towns are taking legal actions  against the manufacturers of products containing perfluorinated compounds — chemicals linked to cancers and other health impacts — after those chemicals were found in public and private wells across the South Fork.

East Hampton Town last month filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of products containing perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), once used in nonstick products such as Teflon, made by DuPont, and Scotchguard, made by the 3M Company. Both companies are defendants in the lawsuit, as are other corporations.

The suit, electronically filed in State Supreme Court in Suffolk County on Dec. 28, alleges the companies were aware of the health risks associated with the compounds and failed to alert the public.

“Defendants acted with knowledge, intent, fraud and/or malice driven by their own motives to profit from their products with conscious disregard for public health or the environment,” the lawsuit states.

The Southampton Town Board voted last month  to hire Melville law firm Napoli Shkolnik to represent the town in possible similar litigation on a contingency basis. The firm is representing the town-owned Hampton Bays Water District in a similar suit filed after those compounds were found in three public wells in the hamlet in 2016 and 2017.

Health effects associated with the chemicals include liver damage, decreased fertility, developmental delays in fetuses and children, and being a possible carcinogen, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The compounds were also once contained in firefighting foam, which environmental agencies have identified as a major source of perfluorinated compound contamination.

Other defendants in the East Hampton Town lawsuit include East Hampton Village, which owns the East Hampton Fire Department; the Bridgehampton Volunteer Fire Department; and the owners of the Wainscott Sand & Gravel sand pit. The East Hampton and Bridgehampton fire departments used the foam at the airport and the sand pit, the lawsuit states.

A 3M spokeswoman said the company acted responsibly in handling products containing the substances. East Hampton Village declined to comment and representatives from Dupont, the Bridgehampton fire department and Wainscott Sand & Gravel could not be reached.

The Wainscott contamination was first announced in October 2017. Since then, PFOS and PFOA have been detected in more than 200 wells in the hamlet. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating both the town-owned East Hampton Airport and the Wainscott sand pit as possible contamination sources, state officials said.

The town and the Suffolk County Water Authority are nearing completion on 45,000 feet of water mains to bring public water to hamlet residents, a project estimated to cost $24 million. Public water, unlike private wells, is regularly monitored and must meet drinking water standards.

The town lawsuit seeks unspecified damages to cover the cost of providing bottled water to affected homes, connecting residents to public water, investigating and remediating the problem, and paying for potential damages from a similar lawsuit filed against the town and the manufacturers by Wainscott resident Kim Shipman in March.

East Hampton Town officials declined to discuss either lawsuit, citing the town’s policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

In Southampton, the chemicals have been detected in more than 40 wells in East Quogue as well as other areas surrounding Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach.

“We hired them [Napoli Shkolnik] to go beyond the Hampton Bays Water District,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “We have problems in Sagaponack, Westhampton, East Quogue and where else, we don’t know yet.”

The Southampton Town Board also voted last month to pay Toxic Targeting Inc., an Ithaca-based environmental site assessment firm, $25,000 to prepare a report mapping potential sources and detailing the hazards the chemicals pose in the town.

“PFOS seems to be showing up in so many different places. We don’t know if it’s from a car fire, training exercises or a plane crash,” Schneiderman said. “We really don’t have a lot of information here.”

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