hamptons local events, express news group

Story - News

May 23, 2018 11:34 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays Water District Failed To Test For PFOS, PFOA Contamination In First Quarter Of 2017

Warren Booth, a maintenance crew leader for the Hampton Bays Water District, left, and Anthony O. Conette, a principal engineer with D&B Engineers and Architects, during Thursday's Southampton Town Board work session. AMANDA BERNOCCO
May 23, 2018 11:34 AM

A recent study gave the Hampton Bays Water District a mark of noncompliance for its failure to test several wells for a pair of unregulated chemicals in the first quarter of 2017—despite requests from the Suffolk County Health Department that it do so.

The study, completed by D&B Engineers and Architects of Woodbury, shows that the three wells in question—referred to as 1-1, 1-2 and 1-3—were not tested for the chemicals perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, known as PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, in early 2017.

Water district officials note that the wells in question were not regularly being used to provide water for HBWD customers during the first quarter. Still, the findings are of concern to some water district customers.

After being pushed for answers, most notably by Anthony DePalma, one of those customers, members of the Southampton Town Board, who serve as commissioners to the water district, hired the engineering company in December for as much as $17,000 to review the district’s response to the chemical detection.

Its report laid out a time line of the testing.

Well 1-1 was sampled for the first time on May 23, 2016. Four days later, on May 27, the results showed 82 parts per trillion of PFOS and PFOA contamination in the drinking water. The health advisory level for the chemicals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is 70 ppt.

When the contamination in the well came back above the EPA threshold, the water district turned off the well, according to the study. It was not tested during the first quarter of 2017, as the Health Department had requested, but it also provided no water to the district’s system.

Well 1-2 was tested for the pair of chemicals in May, July and October 2016. All three tests came in below the EPA threshold, so the well remained active.

But Well 1-2 was used little after the October 2016 test; it was not used from early October through early June 2017, with the exception of one day in January. A break in use during the winter is not unusual, because there is a lower demand for water, according to district officials.

The district skipped the January 2017 testing for well 1-2. The next time the well was tested, was between June 28 and July 14, the reading had jumped above the EPA threshold, at 85.89 ppt. The well was immediately shut off.

Well 1-3 was tested three times in 2016, with the results falling below the 70 ppt threshold each time. Additional testing was skipped in the first quarter of 2017, as it was for the other wells.

Results from the first testing in 2017, during the second quarter, were close to the threshold—the level measured 69.9 ppt on May 3. Still below the health advisory level, the well was used until December, when testing showed contamination had jumped to 95 ppt. It was shut off at that point.

D&B Principal Engineer Anthony Conetta, who has decades of experience monitoring water districts, and Warren Booth, a maintenance crew leader for the water district, explained during a Town Board work session earlier this month that the failure to test the wells in the first quarter of 2017 was an oversight.

Mr. Booth also noted that the wells in question—the water district operates a total of 11 wells—are often inactive in the winter months. He said that in the summer, from July to September, the water district uses approximately seven million to eight million gallons of water per day—or nearly four times as much as in the winter, when only one to two million gallons of water is used per day. “It’s a big difference,” he said.

Mr. Conetta and Mr. Booth also explained during the May 10 work session that because the chemicals are unregulated, the district was not obligated to turn off the wells. No fines can be issued for serving customers water with unregulated chemical contamination, because the threshold is only advisory.

After the contamination was detected and the wells were shut off last year, the town purchased and installed carbon filtration systems for the wells—costing about $1 million—to keep the unregulated chemicals out of the water. The cost was covered by funds from a $1.1 million settlement that the water district reached several years ago with the manufacturer of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. That chemical, which is a colorless liquid commonly found in gasoline, was detected in the aquifer that supplies the water district, although it was not found in any of the 11 wells.

With the new filters installed, the district expects to reconnect the three wells this summer.

It’s believed that the unregulated chemicals that contaminated the wells came from a firefighting foam, formerly used in training exercises. Other areas on the South Fork—including Westhampton, East Quogue, and Wainscott—are facing similar contamination, also suspected to stem from firefighting foam.

According to the Suffolk County Health Department, studies of rats and mice exposed to the chemicals indicate that over a certain exposure level there could be a risk to a fetus or a breastfed infant, as well as liver, immune system and thyroid damage, and an increased risk of cancer.

But Mr. DePalma, who has been questioning town officials about the way it handled the contamination since last year, said in an email this week that there could be additional reason for concern, explaining that other agencies speculate that risks can occur from contamination as low as 12 ppt. He said he was concerned about the associated health risks and the water district’s ability to protect its customers from such contamination.

In a sitdown meeting with town officials and water district staff in October 2017, Mr. DePalma said he wasn’t getting a straight answer about when the wells were tested and disconnected. His continuous questioning led to the commissioners hiring the engineering firm to complete the study—and to acknowledge the missed testing.

Mr. Conetta stressed that the district had “mostly complied” and pointed out that it had acknowledged mistakes that would not be repeated in the future. “It’s not uncommon to have a monitoring oversight,” he said.

At the work session, Councilman John Bouvier noted that the water district was not at fault for the chemical contamination itself—it was likely a consequence of a mistake made decades ago when fire departments all over used the firefighting foam.

Mr. Bouvier stressed that he hopes the district has learned to improve the way it does its chemical testing in the future: “I would like to see very strong protocols in place to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

You've read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

Mr. Conetta stressed that the district had “mostly complied” and pointed out that it had acknowledged mistakes that would not be repeated in the future. “It’s not uncommon to have a monitoring oversight,” I guess that should make us sleep easy at night. BTW, his firm is also under indictment for contract irregularities with the NYC DEP among others; who knows what's really going on here.
By HamptonDad (236), Hampton Bays on May 24, 18 10:38 AM
1 member liked this comment
These results may soon go from bad to worse if a new EPA study that is being suppressed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt shows that the current "safe" EPA PFOA levels in drinking water are actually much lower than 70 PPT: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/16/pruitt-chemical-study-epa-590947

These chemicals are bad news and can lead to major health problems such as "developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, ...more
By Moneybogue (37), Westhampton Beach on May 24, 18 10:58 AM
1 member liked this comment
" A former Hampton Bays Board of Education member who pleaded guilty to looting $55,000 from a scholarship fund established to honor his deceased friend will get to keep his job with the Hampton Bays Water District and will not face any disciplinary review, despite the objections of Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman."
Hard to believe that the first thing we see on a story that does not reflect well on the HB Water District is this thief's mug.
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on May 24, 18 6:26 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on May 24, 18 6:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
Lets hear from the commissioners ,are they carrying out there feducary duties?I expect there will an investigation into the proatacals for testing and why they were not followed.Can we be sure its safe to drink the water from our faucets or should we switch to bottled water.
By watchdog1 (543), Southampton on May 25, 18 9:06 AM
Warren Booth must go,an oversight is not good enough.
By watchdog1 (543), Southampton on May 25, 18 9:08 AM
Agreed. Why is a known thief working there?
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on May 25, 18 1:47 PM