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Suffolk to hook Yaphank homes to public water over contamination

The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved an emergency resolution Wednesday night to spend $362,000 to connect 18 homes in Yaphank to public water because contamination from firefighting foam used at the nearby county fire academy reached those private wells.

Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken and his staff asked for the emergency action after testing the wells.

The county took action after the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued an advisory in May identifying two chemicals, PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), as “emerging contaminants.” The state added both to their list of “hazardous substances.”

In an interview later, health officials said three homes exceeded 70 parts per trillion, a concentration greater than recommended in drinking water guidelines. A dozen homes had lower trace amounts. However, health officials emphasize the federal government has no specific mandated limits on the chemicals and no residents have suffered any ill effects.

The resolution will allow the health department to enter a contract with the Suffolk County Water Authority, which is expected to hook up the homes on the east side of Yaphank Avenue by the end of November.

The chemicals, according to health officials, are used as a firefighting agent known as aqueous film-forming foam, which has been used in the past for fire-training exercises at the academy’s training area to battle chemical fires.

Lawmakers also heard from more than 40 speakers, about two-thirds of them opponents of Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory’s proposed local law to require gun owners to keep firearms not in their possession or control in a safe, or secured with gun locks, while at home to protect children and to keep the weapons out of the hand of robbers.

Backers of the bill said the measure is needed not only to help minors but potential victims of domestic violence and those considering suicide.

Noting that more than half the 40,000 suicides annually in the United States involve guns, Dr. Stanley Blyskal, who has a practice in East Islip, said, “Life is precious. This will guarantee you will save lives.”

Critics, however, worried locking up guns could make homeowners victims to violent home invaders. “The time it takes to retrieve a firearm could make the difference between life and death,” Edward Newman of Bay Shore said.

Gregory emphasized his measure does not require that guns be locked up if a homeowner has them in his possession or control. “We’re not the boogeyman,” he said.

The legislature closed the hearing, which means that the resolution will go back to committee next month and could face a vote before the full panel Nov. 19.

In other action, the legislature also confirmed the appointment of Philip Berdolt as parks commissioner.

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