hamptons local events, express news group

Story - News

Feb 22, 2017 10:09 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Homeowners Near Westhampton Air Base Plan To Sue Suffolk County Over Drinking Water Contamination

Elizabeth and Jerome Liggon are one couple that have filed a notice of claim against Suffolk County over contaminated water near Gabreski Airport. BY ERIN MCKINLEY
Feb 23, 2017 4:46 PM

Isaac and Arneal Green said they’ve heard rumblings about possible drinking water well contamination for years.

That is the main reason why the couple, who live on Hazelwood Avenue in Westhampton Beach, have had their private water well tested for contaminants every few years since moving to the area in 1976. Those tests have always come back negative—which made it all the more surprising when they were contacted in July by Suffolk County officials who wanted to test their well water for two new chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.

It turns out that those chemicals, since traced back to fire suppression foam used in the past at the New York Air National Guard base at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, were never included in testing, because they were never deemed a hazard by the federal government.

That has since changed, and, within two days of being contacted by the county, the Greens learned that their well had tested positive. A second round of testing revealed that their water contained elevated levels of one of the contaminants; specifically, their water contained 0.086 parts per billion of PFOA, above the Environmental Protection Agency’s new recommended safe level of 0.07 ppb.

They were immediately instructed to stop drinking their well water, and the county began sending them weekly water bottle deliveries. In December, the Suffolk County Water Authority finished hooking up their home to public water at no cost.

“I had heard inklings of possible contamination at the base years ago,” Mr. Green said this week. “But it was never really mentioned what it was and then, all of a sudden, it became a thing. I don’t know who put a flame under whose rear-end, but it became a big thing—fast.”

The Greens are now listed as plaintiffs in a notice of claim filed on October 20 against Suffolk County, which owns the airport where the chemicals have been traced. The notice, typically a precursor to an actual lawsuit, contends that the county was negligent in protecting homeowners with private wells for decades. In total 39 notices have been filed against Suffolk County, representing more than 100 residents from Westhampton, Westhampton Beach and Quiogue.

The contamination was announced in July when Suffolk County officials said they had detected both chemicals in testing wells at Gabreski Airport. At the time, Suffolk Health Department officials tested the wells at 69 private homes and said they discovered contamination in eight, with levels ranging from 0.086 ppb to 1.88 ppb. Traces of the chemicals were also discovered in three additional wells, but in trace amounts and lower than EPA guidelines. The chemicals had also been detected in small amounts in the public water system but that concern has been addressed with the installation of filters, officials said.

Presently, not a lot is known about the potential long-term effects that come with the constant consumption of water containing high amounts of PFOS and PFOA, though the chemicals have been linked to certain inflammatory diseases and cancers in preliminary studies. That raises additional concerns for local residents, like the Greens, who have likely been drinking contaminated water for decades. Authorities suspect that the chemicals were introduced into the groundwater as far back as the 1950s and 1960s, when firefighting foam was regularly used at the base.

Elizabeth and Jerome Liggon, who owned a home on Peter’s Lane on Quiogue for 10 years, said this week that they feared there were issues with their water for years, citing the high number of their neighbors who would complain about various illnesses. Unlike the Greens, their home was hooked up to public water.

“I noticed a problem years ago because every time you turned around someone on our block had cancer and was dying of something,” Mr. Liggon said. “My thing has always been that it has to be the water because that is the common denominator. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what we are all drinking. It’s not confirmed, but this does give me some validation.”

According to the Liggons, who now live in Riverhead, they now think that many of their own family’s ailments—including kidney damage and chronic thyroid problems—are a direct result of drinking the water.

“Almost every household in the area has some serious illness,” Ms. Liggon said. “Not one individual house that doesn’t have a health ailment that needs to be monitored.”

Like the Greens, the Liggons are now being represented in their claims by Paul Napoli and Patrick Lanciotti of the Manhattan-based law firm Napoli and Shkolnik. This week, Mr. Lanciotti confirmed that the residents will all be seeking financial settlements—he declined to say how much—from Suffolk County, who they say failed to install any protective barriers between the base and local water supplies.

He added that his clients also want to be part of a blood-testing program that was announced last week by the New York State Department of Health. That testing will monitor any health risks posed by long-term exposure to the chemicals, though it remained unclear this week who would qualify and when the testing would begin.

Vanessa Baird Streeter, a spokeswoman for the county, said she could not comment on the notices of claim, explaining that she cannot discuss pending litigation.

According to Mr. Lanciotti, Suffolk County is currently reviewing all of the notices of claim and has requested a hearing with each individual plaintiff to review their charges and evidence filed against the county. The hearings started earlier this year, with 17 already completed and the remainder scheduled for March, he added.

After the hearings are finished, Mr. Lanciotti said the county will have a chance to respond to the claims. Once that happens, his firm will decide whether or not to pursue actual lawsuits, according to the attorney.

Anyone who has questions about he pending lawsuits can contact Napoli Shkolnik at Napolilaw.com.

“My wife is terrified about this situation,” Mr. Green said, noting that many of their neighbors have suffered unusual illnesses or died too early.

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

Already a subscriber? Sign in

I am shocked that this story is still being reported as a private-well-only issue when The SH Press recently released a story that this is a PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY issue!! I hope the Department of Health can ensure the SCWA deals with this problem and make our PUBLIC water safe to drink again. http://www.27east.com/news/article.cfm/Westhampton-Beach-Surrounding-Areas/500590/Contamination-Was-Found-In-Public-Water-Sources-In-Addition-To-Private-Wells-In-Westhampton-On-Quiogue
By Moneybogue (37), Westhampton Beach on Feb 23, 17 1:28 AM
When the aquifer is depleted - what will the East End do?
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Feb 24, 17 11:24 AM