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Progress Continues in Response to PFC Impacts at Yaphank Firematics Site

Written by Long Island News & PR  |  02. August 2017

Yaphank, NY - August 2, 2017 - In response to the presence of a newly designated hazardous substance in groundwater in the vicinity of a county-owned facility in Yaphank that is used to provide training for volunteer firefighters, Suffolk County’s multi-pronged approach has entered a new phase.  The county has executed an agreement with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) through which the county has agreed to fully investigate and remediate contamination related to the previous use of firefighting foam at the site. According to Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken, the agreement, which sets forth a process and timetable for the investigation, also requires the development of a formal Citizen Participation Plan to be submitted to the NYSDEC by mid-August. “There has been continuous activity in the response effort since July, 2016 when the health department anticipated the potential for groundwater contamination and proactively investigated the site,” the commissioner noted.
 
The Firematics site, which has been used as a training facility for the volunteer fire service since 1959, is located at 676 Maple Street in Yaphank. A type of firefighting foam known as aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) was used at Firematics Site for training purposes until May 2016, when perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which can be found in the foam, were classified as hazardous substances by New York State on April 26, 2016. 
 
In April 2017, the county announced that NYSDEC had designated the Firematics site to be included in the State Superfund Program. In early July, Suffolk County voluntarily executed an Order on Consent with the NYSDEC to set out a clear process and timetable to address the contamination of the site.  Under the Order on Consent, the county will develop a Remedial Investigation (RI) and a Feasibility Study (FS) workplan to be approved by the NYSDEC. Upon approval of the workplan by NYSDEC, the county will implement the RI/FS workplan to continue the Remedial Investigation.  This work is expected to occur in the fall 2017.  The results of the RI will be used to determine appropriate actions to take in order to remediate the environmental impacts. Such remediation is expected to occur in 2018.  As part of the continued investigation of groundwater contamination in the area, other potential sources of PFOS and PFOA will also be investigated. The execution of an Order on Consent typically marks the beginning of the investigation and response to environmental impacts.
 
“What makes this situation unusual – in a very positive way – is that instead of waiting for the execution of the agreement, Suffolk County has been moving aggressively for over a year,” explained Commissioner Tomarken.  “We have been working quickly to make sure that residents in potentially affected areas have access to safe drinking water, while at the same time moving forward with a comprehensive groundwater investigation to determine the extent of contamination.  The county is committed to taking whatever actions are necessary to address the environmental impacts that have resulted from the historical use of foam agents for firefighting training.”
 
In addition to firefighting foam, perfluorinated compounds such as PFOS and PFOA have been used in a number of industrial and commercial products, such as coatings that repel water, oil, stains and grease.  They have been used in textiles, food packaging and non-stick cookware; though many major manufacturers in the United States have agreed to voluntarily reduce the content of PFCs in their products.  As a result of this widespread use the general public can be exposed to PFOS and PFOA from many sources other than drinking water.  Food can be a significant source of exposure to PFOS and PFOA, and carpets treated with PFC-containing products would also be a potential source of exposure for small children.
 
As soon as the state designated PFOS and PFOA as hazardous substances, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHS) staff moved quickly to identify properties with private wells that could be impacted by groundwater contamination from the Firematics site.  In July 2016, SCDHS staff reached out to potentially affected residents to advise homeowners and to obtain water samples from their wells for testing. Several private wells were found to have levels of PFOS and PFOA that exceeded an EPA Health Advisory Level (HAL), which was issued in May, 2016.  Out of an abundance of caution, bottled water was provided to all residents in the private well survey area free of charge.
 
In October 2016, the Suffolk County Legislature authorized the county to enter into an agreement with the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) to connect all residences in the immediate area to public water.  By early January of 2017, 16 homes had been connected to public water at no cost to the property owners.
 
A groundwater monitoring investigation was also initiated in October by SCDHS.  To date, 25 monitoring profile wells have been installed to characterize the area and extent of groundwater contamination.  PFCs exceeding EPA HALs were detected in several monitoring wells.  This work proceeds as more information is obtained.
 
In February 2017, the county expanded sampling of private wells to areas further south and east of the Fire Training Center based on initial private well and groundwater monitoring results.  Bottled water was also made available to these residents free of charge.  As of July 27, approximately 6,000 gallons of water had been delivered to residents in the Yaphank survey area who were not yet connected to public water.
 
As a result of this sampling, in June 2017, SCDHS contracted with the SCWA to connect an additional 32 properties in this expanded area to public water.  That process has begun and is expected to be completed by the end of the summer. In total, the Suffolk County Legislature has authorized the expenditure of $1.23 million to connect properties identified in the private well survey area to public water.  As of July 31, an additional 16 parcels have been connected in the Yaphank area. 
 
Residents with homes served by public water do not need to have their water sampled, as the public water supply is routinely tested. PFC levels in the public water supply in the area have not been detected at levels of concern.
 
Most recently, SCDHS has developed a plan to conduct additional groundwater studies which will be initiated this summer, to help delineate the extent of PFC contamination. SCDHS has also contracted with a consultant to further accelerate the remedial investigation process, which will include a formal citizen participation component.  Part of the effort will focus on characterizing other potential PFC sources in the area, including the Brookhaven Landfill and Long Island Compost sites.
 
For the past several months, SCDHS has also led an interagency work group, including NYSDEC and NYSDOH, in developing a preliminary workplan to assess potential impacts of PFCs on surface waters of the Carman’s River and associated aquatic biota. The goal is to undertake this evaluation at the earliest practicable time so that the data can be used to evaluate potential exposures to humans from the consumption of fish and shellfish.
 
More information about PFOS and PFOA and the investigation at the Firematics site can be found on the Suffolk County website: http://suffolkcountyny.gov/health/pfcwaterinfo . This website contains general information about PFOS and PFOA, a “Frequently Asked Question” document and a link to information specific to the Firematics site, including a map of the private well sampling area. This page will be updated periodically as new information becomes available.  The website is part of an extensive community outreach effort by SCDHS, which has included visits and counseling to residents on private wells, press releases, and mailings to all residents in the vicinity.
 
For more information about the environmental investigation at the Firematics Site, contact NYSDEC at 518-402-9658. Residents who have questions about testing their private well should call SCDHS at 631-852-5810. For general health questions about PFOS or PFOA, contact the New York State Department of Health at 518-402-7860.
 
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