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Town, environmentalists want Navy to expand area of testing of private wells in Riverhead

The Navy plans to test private drinking water

The Navy plans to test private drinking water wells near the former Grumman-operated Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant property in Calverton. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin/

Environmental advocates and Riverhead officials said the U.S. Navy’s plan to test private drinking water wells near the former Grumman-operated Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant property in Calverton is insufficient and should be expanded to protect other homes farther away from the site.

Navy officials met Sept. 25 with residents at the Residence Inn in Calverton to discuss their plan to test wells in some surrounding communities within a one-mile radius of the site. In years past, firefighting drills   were conducted there using foam containing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) chemicals. Certain groundwater locations at the former Grumman property have revealed the chemicals' presence, according to a fact sheet the Navy released in September.

The Environmental Protection Agency website said perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid are human-made compounds that are resistant to typical environmental degradation processes. The agency said the compounds have been linked to high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, testicular and kidney cancer and adverse reproductive and developmental effects.

Town officials and advocacy groups are calling for additional testing to be done south and southwest of Swan Pond and homes with private wells south of the Peconic River which are not currently included in the Navy’s testing plans.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said because the firefighting exercises took place decades ago, it was important to make sure more wells farther from the facility were not contaminated.

“We’re not even asking them to clean up," Esposito said Wednesday. "We’re just asking them to increase the area to be tested so the community can be assured they’re not being poisoned.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said at Thursday’s town board work session that town officials have asked the Navy to expand testing past the proposed testing area — and will continue to do that — but that Navy officials “have not been agreeable to that at this point.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she had spoken to State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) about the matter. “We know contaminants run to the largest body of water, which is the Peconic River, and [the Navy] is not even connecting to the Peconic River and testing everybody from the Peconic River to the test site,” she said.

In a statement Thursday, Lora Fly, remedial project manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic, said the Navy's initial sampling plan is designed to determine whether PFAS are present in current drinking water and “this initial phase is still ongoing.”

A Navy team of experts on local geology and hydrogeology “concluded that if there is PFAS [per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that include PFOA and PFOS] in the groundwater, then it would still be present in the groundwater areas nearest to where it was potentially released,” Fly said. “For this reason, our initial sampling plan targets nearby downgradient wells. Should we discover PFAS in drinking water, we will broaden our sampling area for additional testing."

The Navy will hold another meeting on the matter on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Riverhead Senior Center.

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