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East Hampton Town sues over contamination linked to firefighting foam

In May, the state Department of Environmental Conservation

In May, the state Department of Environmental Conservation added a portion of the East Hampton Airport property to its Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites, a move that requires the town to investigate and remedy the contamination. Credit: U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York

East Hampton Town is suing one of its own villages and fire departments over the use of fire suppression foam containing perfluorinated compounds — chemicals linked to reproductive and other health impacts — at its Wainscott airport and the subsequent contamination of nearby drinking wells.

The town filed a lawsuit on April 13 in U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip seeking a court action compelling East Hampton Village, which operates East Hampton fire department, to disclose all locations where the foam was stored and used. The town is also seeking unspecified damages related to the cleanup.

In May, the state Department of Environmental Conservation added a portion of the East Hampton Airport property to its Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites, a move that requires the town to investigate and remedy the contamination.

That cost could total tens of millions of dollars, according to the complaint, and the town is seeking compensation from the village’s insurer, American Alternative Insurance Corporation.

“By this lawsuit, the town seeks the information it needs and to have the village’s insurer, as opposed to the town’s taxpayers, fund the New York State required cleanup,” town attorney Nicholas Rigano, of the Melville firm Rigano LLC, wrote in an email.

Representatives of the fire department could not be reached for comment, but East Hampton Village administrator Rebecca Molinaro Hansen said in a statement that “the village is dismayed that the town has decided to subject the volunteers of our fire department and taxpayers to this continued litigation.”

Aqueous film-forming foam made through 2001 can contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which studies have shown can cause reproductive, developmental, liver and other health impacts, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The East Hampton Fire Department used the foam for training purposes and to fight fires at the airport between one and 10 times from 2007 until 2017, according to a survey filed with the DEC. The DEC in 2018 released a “site characterization report” of East Hampton Airport that found historic use and storage of firefighting foam at the site had impacted groundwater.

The chemicals were detected in more than 200 private wells in nearby Wainscott, and the town undertook a multimillion-dollar project to extend water mains, bringing public water access to more than 500 homes.

“As the impacted private wells do not have treatment for PFOA or PFOS, Wainscott residents were drinking contaminated water potentially for decades,” the lawsuit states.

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