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Speed up tests for toxins in water at several sites

Samples from private wells at Gabreski Airport taken

Samples from private wells at Gabreski Airport taken for testing by the Suffolk County Water Authority in 2016. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Not knowing whether it’s safe to drink the water from your private well is an awful feeling. Having to wait for test results and then finding out it’s not safe are even worse.

That’s what’s happening in some Suffolk neighborhoods near the places where two unregulated chemicals considered possible carcinogens have been found in public and private well water, sometimes above the federal health advisory level. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been found near two state Superfund sites, Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach and the Suffolk County fire-training academy in Yaphank, as well as three potential Superfund sites — Long Island MacArthur Airport, East Hampton Airport and a Hampton Bays fire department. PFOS and PFOA have been used in firefighting foam and certain coatings that repel water and grease.

Residents with private wells need to know whether they are at risk, but Suffolk’s health department lacks the equipment and personnel to do the testing. So samples are sent to the state lab in Albany, which is overwhelmed with all sorts of testing. Results can take two or three weeks to get back. That’s an eternity for worried homeowners. Doing the work locally also would mean more samples could be taken, giving officials a better map of the extent of this growing problem.

Thankfully, there’s a cheap fix. A one-time grant of $500,000 from an existing program in the state Environmental Protection Fund would buy the equipment and pay for a chemist for two years so Suffolk could do the testing. Which means that in the three-way wrestling match that is the state budget process, the Assembly, Senate and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo must meet in the center of the mat.

The amount is a pittance in a $168 billion spending plan. Its effect on people’s lives would be enormous. Get it done.