The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has ordered 47 acres of East Hampton Airport added to the “Superfund” hazardous waste site list, in the wake of its investigation of chemical contamination of groundwater in southern Wainscott.
After a year-long investigation, the DEC identified a half-dozen sites on the 570-acre airport property that showed elevated levels of contamination by the chemicals PFOS and PFOA, which it has now recommended be added to the state Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites.
All of the locations of elevated contamination, which are scattered around the property, have some connection to the use of fire-suppressant foams.
The two chemicals found were commonly used in making fire-suppressant foams commonly used to put out fires at airports until about 2005. In its report on the East Hampton Airport investigation last fall, the DEC identified several instances of the foams being sprayed during emergency training drills or in response to crashes at the airport dating back to the 1980s.
Included in the locations that will be added to the Superfund list is the area around the airport terminal, which had been the site of an emergency drill before the current terminal building was constructed. Other locations are along Industrial Road and Daniels Hole Road and at the end of one of the airport runways where a plane crashed.
The discovery of groundwater contamination by PFOS/PFOA has mushroomed nationwide in recent years, most often in areas surrounding airports where fire-supressant foams had been stored or used in drills and emergency responses. There are dozens of lawsuits pending against the handful of companies, including the chemical giant 3M, that manufactured the foams. East Hampton Town and a Wainscott resident have both filed lawsuits against 3M and other foam manufacturers.
After the PFOS/PFOA contamination was discovered in Wainscott in 2017, the town spurred a Suffolk County Water Authority project to extend county water mains to more than 500 homes in the southern portions of the hamlet, paid for with a $9.7 million grant from the state.
This week, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the town will maintain a proactive approach to dealing with this issue.
“We’re committed to further investigation and engaging environmental experts and the DEC to remediate the contamination,” he said.
Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton has already been listed on the Superfund site list, following the discovery of PFOS/PFOA contamination in surrounding groundwater tables in 2015.
The two chemicals are among several that are known as “emerging contaminants” by regulatory agencies because their potential health effects are unknown and the agencies generally do not have standards for determining whether their presence in the environment is dangerous or not.
The chemicals were also common ingredients in waterproofing additives to a broad number of products, from pizza boxes to carpeting. They have largely been eliminated from use in products made in the United States but are still used in products imported from other countries.
The Suffolk County Water Authority has said that combating PFOS-PFOA and other emerging chemical contamination could cost it—and its ratepayers—as much as $1 billion in the coming years.