Blood tests offered, no cleanup plan yet for Westhampton water contamination

Westhampton residents have been waiting for months for answers concerning water contamination near Gabreski Airport.

News 12 Long Island reported the findings in August, when Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said chemicals that were used in airport firefighting exercises were found in eight of the 41 private water wells they tested. Five of them are above the EPA's advisory level.

Dr. Tomarken and other officials said at the time they believed the chemicals came from the 106th Air Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard based at Gabreski Airport. They urged the Air Force to fix the problem.

In a statement to News 12, the state Department of Health says, "The Water Quality Rapid Response Team...identified PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) contamination in some private wells in the Westhampton Beach area near the Gabreski Air Force base. As a result, the Department of Health will offer free blood testing to the affected residents in this targeted area to determine their past PFOS exposure."

In addition, the DOH says it is working to identify a local laboratory that will administer the testing and should have one picked out soon.

They also say "the test is more complicated and takes longer to process than a blood test performed in a doctor's office, participants can expect to receive results 2-3 months from the date they were tested."

Anyone interested in getting a blood test is encouraged by the DEC to email beoe@health.ny.gov or call 518-402-7950.

Environmental advocates say they would like to see the contamination cleaned up as soon as possible.

"[PFOS] has been directly linked to such cancers as kidney cancer...but has also been linked to thyroid problems, hormone disruption," says Adrienne Esposito, of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "It's a serious chemical, it's very persistent, which means it doesn't break down in the environment or in our body, and it builds up."

Dozens of families in the community are now hooking up to the public water supply as a precaution. The Department of Environmental Conservation says those hookups should be completed by the spring.

As far as the cleanup is concerned, there is no plan in place yet. The Department of Defense, which owns the base, is conducting an investigation to determine the cause and extent of the contamination. The DEC says it is expecting to review the Air National Guard's draft investigation workplan in March. The workplan will guide the investigation and efforts to remediate the contamination.

An attorney representing more than 100 current and former residents of Westhampton says they are suing Suffolk County and the manufacturer of the firefighting foam for the contaminated wells.

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