Governor Cuomo Announces New Actions to Protect Water Quality on Long Island

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced actions taken to safeguard water quality on Long Island.

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State declares Gabreski Air National Guard Base a state superfund site and ensures for private residential well hookups to municipal water system. State will approve pilot program for use of cutting-edge drinking water treatment technology to remove 1,4 dioxane.

Photo by: Brian Zerangue, via Free Images.

Long Island, NY - September 12, 2016 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced actions taken to safeguard water quality on Long Island, including the designation of a Superfund Site at Gabreski Air National Guard Base and $5 million in funding to support the development of emerging contaminant treatment systems at SUNY Stony Brook's Center for Clean Water Technology.

In addition, the Advanced Oxidative Process, a cutting-edge drinking water treatment, will be approved by the state and soon be used for the first time in New York in a pilot program to treat 1,4 dioxane contamination. These actions further the efforts of the Governor's Water Quality Rapid Response Team, launched on Long Island in February to swiftly address water quality issues across the state and develop new policies, programs, and technologies to ensure clean water for all New Yorkers.

"Ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to clean drinking water is a top priority and the Water Quality Rapid Response Team continues to take action across the state to stay ahead of this emerging challenge," said Governor Cuomo. "Working together with environmental experts, elected officials, and community stakeholders, we are holding polluters accountable, investing in water treatment technologies to keep our natural resources safe, and laying the ground work for a cleaner, brighter future for the state of New York."

Gabreski Air National Guard Base Declared a State Superfund Site
To support the ongoing efforts of Governor Cuomo's Water Quality Rapid Response Team, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has declared the Air National Guard Base located at the Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Suffolk County a Class 2 Superfund Site. With this designation, DEC has identified the U.S. Department of Defense, which oversees the site’s operations, as the potentially responsible party for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) contamination detected in nearby groundwater supplies. DEC will use its full legal authority under the State Superfund law to ensure a thorough site clean-up.

On April 25, 2016, DEC added PFOS to the state’s list of hazardous substances to utilize the State Superfund program. The Water Quality Rapid Response Team continues to analyze data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule program to identify potential areas of contamination, which led to the discovery of the groundwater contamination near Gabreski Airport.

In July, DEC identified the Air National Guard Base, including the former fire training area at the airport, as a potential Superfund site due to historic use of firefighting foam containing PFOS. DEC immediately initiated an investigation and took groundwater and soil samples at the base, which confirmed that the site is a significant source of PFOS contamination in the area.

Also, in late July, Suffolk County collected samples of 66 private drinking water wells from Westhampton Beach and found several of them to be contaminated. The state has been working closely with Suffolk County and the Suffolk County Water Authority to ensure residents are fully informed, have access to bottled water, and are quickly connected to the municipal water supply.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "DEC works aggressively to protect public health and the environment whenever contamination is found and to hold polluters accountable for their actions. With the Superfund declaration of the Air National Guard Base at Gabreski Airport, DEC will direct and oversee the Department of Defense as they conduct a full site investigation into the nature and extent of the PFOS contamination and develop necessary remedial action plans. The funding provided to the Center for Clean Water Technology will also provide essential support to identifying new treatment technologies to more quickly address groundwater contamination at Superfund sites across Long Island and the state."

In addition to an investigation of the Superfund site, the state has directed the U.S. Department of Defense to finance the connection of private wells to the municipal water supply that have been or may be impacted by contamination. If the DOD fails to do this, the state will use Superfund dollars to advance these connections and then seek cost recovery from the responsible party, in addition to providing impacted residents with clean drinking water.

Last week, the Governor called on the EPA to expand the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule program to require sampling for all public water supplies, regardless of size of population served, to ensure all New Yorkers served by public systems have access to clean water and are protected from contamination. Currently, only water systems with more than 10,000 people are required to test for unregulated contaminants, leaving out 2.5 million New Yorkers who get their drinking water from smaller systems. If the EPA fails to address this national challenge, the administration will step in and advance legislation to ensure all public water in New York State - regardless of size - test for unregulated contaminants and report the results.

In addition, the Governor is advancing legislation to provide oversight of private wells - which are used by 4 million New Yorkers - by requiring homeowners test for contaminants prior to the sale of a home, and mandate that landlords with properties on private wells test their water and share those results with tenants. Such testing is essential to protecting all New Yorkers from emerging contaminants such as PFOS.

$5 Million Investment: Stony Brook Center for Clean Water Technology
To assist water suppliers with the removal of emerging contaminants in drinking water on Long Island, the state will invest $5 million to support the development of new contaminant filtration technologies.

Funding, administered by the new SUNY Stony Brook Center for Clean Water Technology, will support:

  • Grants for water suppliers to develop and conduct pilot projects to test cutting-edge contaminant filtration and treatment technologies,
  • Research needed for the development, evaluation and advancement of these technologies; and
  • Commercialization of viable technologies to create economic development opportunities for the region and state.

The state has already committed $3.5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund to support the Center for Clean Water Technology, which was established at SUNY Stony Brook in 2014 by Governor Cuomo in partnership with Suffolk County and the Town of Southampton. With an additional $5 million in funding, the Center will continue to develop new technologies to improve both drinking water and wastewater quality on Long Island.

In addition, a new treatment technology, the Advanced Oxidative Process, will be approved by the New York State Department of Health, in consultation with the Suffolk County Department of Health. This is the first time the technology will be used in New York as the state continues to leverage new technologies to stay ahead of emerging water quality issues including 1,4 Dioxane, which is an important issue to Long Island.

Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said, "The New York State Department of Health is committed to ensuring clean drinking water for all New Yorkers, and this new partnership with the Center for Clean Water Technology will further our efforts to combat the threat of emerging contaminants in drinking water, while DEC utilizes the Superfund program to clean up contaminated sites like Gabreski Airport. I look forward to working with the Center to advance new research into emerging contaminants in order to quickly and effectively remove them from drinking water supplies across the state."

Senator Ken LaValle said, "I'm pleased that additional resources are being dedicated towards water quality issues. The Superfund designation at Gabreski Airport is critically important to begin to properly address the contamination in an expedited manner. The residents deserve to have every tool available utilized to clean up their water as soon as physically possible."

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele , Jr. said, "Todays Superfund designation is a timely and significant step in the right direction. I applaud our government officials for acting so quickly to identify the scope of the problem, notify residents and now secure the funding necessary to ensure these contaminated soils and waters are contained, removed and remediated. In addition, the new funding for the Stony Brook Center for Clean Water Technology will help fast-track the development and implementation of advanced, alternative wastewater treatment systems which will not only address our nitrogen crisis, but also emerging pollutants which are threatening our ground and surface water quality."

Assemblyman Steve Englebright said, "The new funding for the SUNY Center for Clean Water Technology is a game changer for our efforts to address emerging contaminants, and I look forward to working with the Governor and his administration in continuing to advance new protections for Long Island’s water resources."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said, "This is great news for clean water in Suffolk County. I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking strong action to protect the health of Suffolk residents. Declaring Gabreski as a State Superfund site will allow access to significant resources to address contamination and provide peace of mind to homeowners by helping then connect to safe public water. Investing in the Center for Clean Water Technology is critical to develop the affordable, next generation systems we need to tackle the nitrogen crisis."

Co-Director of the Center for Clean Water Technology at SUNY Stony Brook Christopher J. Gobler, Ph.D. said, "Every year, new and emerging contaminants threaten public water supplies. In other cases, traditional contaminants appear quickly or in an unexpected manner. The NYS Center for Clean Water Technology stands ready to help bring the best technologies available to water districts and water suppliers across New York to ensure a continued supply of safe and clean drinking water for all New Yorkers."

Suffolk County Water Authority CEO Jeffrey Szabo said, "We commend Governor Cuomo for the grant announced today, as it demonstrates his full engagement in the effort to address emerging contaminants proactively. We also commend the governor for his commitment to approve a pilot project the Suffolk County Water Authority has developed to remove 1,4 dioxane from groundwater. These actions will go a long way toward helping us to continue to provide a high quality drinking water supply to Suffolk residents."

About the Statewide Water Quality Rapid Response Team
In February 2016 the Governor launched a Statewide Water Quality Rapid Response Team charged with identifying and developing plans to swiftly address critical drinking water contamination concerns, as well as related groundwater and surface water contamination problems. The Team was directed to develop the nation's leading water quality program and prepare a comprehensive action plan to immediately address water quality issues raised by municipalities and concerned citizens, tackling matters ranging from currently regulated contaminants, such as lead, to emerging contaminants, like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The Team will incorporate the best available science and may include new review standards for currently unregulated contaminants, enhanced testing and oversight of drinking water systems, including private wells, and state of the art drinking water treatment options.