Remediation efforts are due to begin later this year at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, where the Department of Defense has been found responsible for contaminating underground water supplies with chemicals “forever”, and a toxic Superfund site was declared in 2016.
The federal government awarded a $4 million contract to AECOM, a Dallas-based international construction engineering company; the US Army Corps of Engineers; and the Air National Guard for the corrective investigation, according to the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.). The funding was granted after the Army Corps of Engineers, providing engineering support to the Air National Guard, completed an inspection of the site. The National Guard operates a base at the site.
“News of this contract is an important step in cleaning up toxic PFAS pollution at Gabreski that has seeped into private and public water supply wells south of the base,” Schumer said in a statement. statement, adding that he expects the investigation to “reveal the full extent” of the contamination at the site.
AECOM will be the lead agency for the project and is expected to begin collecting samples from the site within the next eight to 10 months, said James D’Ambrosio, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. Schumer said the investigation will also determine exposure pathways and risk to human and environmental health. This information will be used to develop a plan to mitigate the spread and remediate the area, Schumer’s office said.
WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW
- Remediation efforts are expected to begin within a year at Gabreski Airport, where the Ministry of Defense was found responsible for contaminating the groundwater supply.
- The federal government awarded a $4 million contract at AECOM, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Air National Guard for the corrective investigation, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office.
- Previous tests have shown evidence high levels of chemicals “forever” at the airport and in nearby stormwater and private wells, according to a 2020 draft report. The chemicals could lead to cancer or other health problems, have said experts.
Previous testing efforts have shown evidence of elevated levels of PFAS and PFOA at the airport and in nearby stormwater and private wells, according to an Air National Guard contractor’s draft report released in 2020. and made public by the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Exposure to the chemicals forever could lead to cancer or other health problems, experts have said.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the Department of Defense has repeatedly denied responsibility for the contamination of sites on Long Island and elsewhere, delaying remediation efforts.
“The longer the contaminant stays in groundwater, the more it spreads and doesn’t go away, because they’re still chemicals,” Esposito said.
In 2014, the Suffolk County Health Department began testing private wells in the neighborhood south of the base and a former airport firefighter training area for PFAS and PFOA, chemicals in fire-fighting foam used at the airport since the 1970s. In 2017, after the chemicals were detected, homes still using private wells were hooked up to public water through Suffolk County Water Authority.
Ed Kurosz, who lives near Liberty Street in Westhampton Beach, said his home was among residences moved to public water. He said during the test phase that he was not told that contamination had been detected. In December 2017, the county told him he must immediately abandon the well in the house where three generations of his family had lived since the 1940s. Bottled water was then delivered to homes.
“The urgency was scary,” Kurosz said. “But I had no validation from them as to what was creating their urgency.”
He said the lack of direct information shared with him has forced him to wonder if there is a connection to the contamination and the health issues that his family members have suffered over the years, questions to which he thinks he will never have answers. Other community members have been engaged in litigation with chemical manufacturers and Suffolk County since 2017.
Elyse Richman, of nearby Rogers Avenue, was among 161 participants in a state Health Department blood testing program in 2018 that was used to determine toxicity levels in residents living nearby . A preliminary report published in June 2019 showed that of the 11 toxins tested, two of them, including PFOS, were detected at levels slightly above the national average. The study concluded that there “could have been exposures from the public drinking water supply”.
In the years since the airport was declared a Superfund site, the abandonment of the wells and efforts like the blood study, Richman said she assumed contamination issues were under control. The announcement of remediation efforts gives him a new source of concern.
“What has been done for all these years?” she asked.
With Chinese Vera
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