Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, which has been declared...

Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, which has been declared a Superfund site, has become another example of the legacy of groundwater pollution in the region. Credit: James Carbone

The good news about Long Island MacArthur Airport’s designation as a state Superfund site is that more tools will be available to clean up the 1,000-plus-acre area. Among the results could be the removal of soil, if necessary, or pumping and treating groundwater to protect against perfluorooctane sulfonate, a potentially dangerous and long-lasting substance used in firefighting foams.

The bad news is that MacArthur becomes one more example of the legacy of groundwater pollution on Long Island.

State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Water Authority officials stress that public water has and continues to be safeguarded. Some public wells around MacArthur have been on filters for decades for other contaminants. At every location where there's been a detection of “forever chemicals” like the PFOS that shows up in firefighting foams, the water authority says it has installed granulated carbon treatment systems, which act like giant Brita filters.

Private well-users, who are the minority in the vicinity, still need similar attention and support, and should ultimately be helped to connect to public water.

All the investigation and care is necessary because scientists have learned more about chemicals in the PFAS family, which can also come from nonstick or stain-resistant materials and have been found in hundreds of wells on Long Island since 2016, Newsday has reported. State and federal regulators have started moving toward tighter limits, as studies show that exposure to certain levels could be linked to cancers, thyroid issues, and more.

Environmental agencies, political officials, and water professionals must continue to take this issue seriously. Long Island is dependent on its sole source aquifer. We have learned hard truths about the dangers of contamination, most prominently from the Bethpage plume, miles long and containing multiple carcinogens. The plume shows the historic promise and risks of one of the drivers of Long Island's postwar growth as the Navy and Grumman Corp. manufactured fighter jets at the Bethpage facility which once consisted of 600 acres. Over time, multiple contaminants — especially a degreaser with TCE, a carcinogenic solvent — seeped underground.

At MacArthur, which is owned by the Town of Islip, records show firefighting foam containing PFAS was used on the airport property for training and operations from 1988. More investigation is needed to learn how to proceed. A good start: the March 2 meeting at the airport at which town, state, and water authority officials will be present to answer questions. Residents must be kept in the loop as this process unfolds.

We have not always understood what we were doing to our natural resources, or the ways that manufacturing, construction, and the high-tech activities of modern life could contribute to their degradation. When we know, however, we must do everything possible to clean things up and make it right.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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