The Suffolk County fire academy in Yaphank, used for training volunteer firefighters, is now on the state’s Superfund list after water samples from monitoring wells detected contaminants that exceed federal health advisories.
The 28-acre training site sits across Yaphank Avenue from a small residential neighborhood where private wells have also tested positive for the compounds, prompting Suffolk County to begin hooking up those residences to public water supplies. Sixteen homes have already been connected.
In addition, the state Department of Health is offering blood-testing services to residents who may be affected.
The area where wells are being tested runs from Yaphank Avenue southeast to Carmans River and across Sunrise Highway; it also includes a small residential area on the east side of Carmans River, south of the highway. It’s a patchwork of homes with either public water or private wells, said Suffolk County Water Authority CEO Jeff Szabo.
The two chemicals found at the site — perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS — are man-made compounds that can affect the immune system and fetal health and development in humans. Both are ingredients in foams once commonly used in fire supression.
During sampling of 32 private wells, concentrations of PFOA reached 67.7 parts per trillion and PFOS hit 956 parts per trillion, said Jason Hime, a senior public health engineer with the county’s Office of Water Resources.
The compounds aren’t regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency but the federal authority last year set a health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for both PFOS and PFOA combined.
That number is the point at which chronic exposure could cause ill health effects in sensitive populations like fetuses and breastfed infants. Studies have pointed to the compounds contributing to low birth weight, cancer, thryroid problems and other immune effects.
A National Toxicology Program report based on animal and human subjects released last year “found these chemicals were presumed to be immune hazards to people,” said Laurel Schaider, a research scientist with Silent Spring Institute in Massachusetts.
The high PFOS number reported near the Suffolk academy “does raise concerns about potential health effects,” Schaider said.
About 50 homes over three phases will be connected at no charge to Suffolk County Water Authority wells, and bottled water is being delivered to affected residences for cooking and drinking, Suffolk Health Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken said.
Alana Corbett, a 44-year-old medical biller who lives on Yaphank Avenue with her two children and her husband, said she was disturbed when the county first notified her in July about the possible contamination.
“I was very upset that they never tested it before,” said Corbett, adding that she has lived at the house for 19 years.
The county told her it could take six months to hook her home up to public water supply. They provided bottled water, but she and her husband decided to install a water filtration system in the meantime at a cost of $1,900.
The county installed the water lines in December, she said. “I’m more upset I have a bill now,” she said.
“The county needs to more expeditiously and comprehensively clean this up,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We know the county has the ability to clean it up. They have the staff. They have the technology. They need the political will.”
Suffolk County Deputy Executive Peter Scully said $250,000 is in the proposed budget to pay for the water hookups and additional investigating. The following year’s budget has $750,000 set aside for investigation and remedial work.
More homes could be added later if testing shows the contaminants are moving through the groundwater aquifers in the area. Acquifers are Long Island’s sole source of drinking water.
“We didn’t anticipate it had gone as far east as it has,” Scully said. “We’ll just continue to chase it.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation designated the site as Class 2, meaning it presents a significant threat to public health or the environment, said Martin Brand, DECs remediation and materials management deputy commissioner.
The designation of the Yaphank site is part of an overall push from the state’s water quality rapid response team to address contamination from PFOS and PFOA, which also are used in some fire-retardant materials and food packaging. Last year, New York listed both compounds as hazardous materials and ordered they no longer be used in fire-supression foam.
Brand said the response team is looking at military facilities, fire-fighting academies and other locations in the state where the foams were used.
Last year, the state named Gabreski Air National Guard base a Superfund site and said it would hook up nearly 60 private well users to the public supplies after finding PFOS.
Homes with private wells are not subject to drinking water regulations but public water suppliers must meet safety standards.
“The water quality provided here meets standards,” Szabo said.
The academy, referred to in DEC paperwork as “Suffolk County Firematics,” has been in operation since 1959.
With David Schwartz
Call for assistance
Bottled water is available to residents with private wells in the affected area. Call 631-852-4820 to request delivery.
Property owners with private wells in the affected area can have their water tested for free. Call 631-852-5810 to schedule.
Source: Suffolk County Department of Health Services