Navy map showing sampling area and groundwater flow direction.

Naval environmental engineers say there is no need to expand sampling area or provide an alternative water supply to properties with private drinking water wells in the area around the former Grumman facility, despite finding PFAS contamination there and in at least four private wells off-site.

The chemical contamination in question involves Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. They are used in products such as water-repellent clothing, furniture, adhesives, paint and varnish, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces and insulation of electrical wires.

Chemicals in this group include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). PFOA is being phased out, but is still used to make household and commercial products that resist heat and repel stains. PFOS is used in fire-fighting foam. Both are newly listed hazardous substances, according to the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The chemicals have been found on the former Grumman site and the Navy has been investigating the possibility of contamination of drinking water wells within a one-mile radius “down-gradient” of the former Navy manufacturing facility. The Navy still owns three parcels of property inside the facility, which it retained due to environmental contamination issues, when the federal government transferred the site to the Town of Riverhead in 1998.

The Navy originally identified 53 parcels as potentially having private wells that could be affected by a contaminated groundwater plume originating on the former Grumman site. The Navy later determined that 34 of those 53 parcels were either vacant or served by public water. Of the remaining 19 parcels, 14 were sampled at the request of the owner.

The Navy says its testing of the 14 voluntary samples collected found none exceeded the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s “Lifetime Health Advisory” limit of 70 nanograms per liter (ng/L) — 70 parts per trillion — for PFOS/PFOA. Of the 14 samples collected, 10 of the sample results were non-detect for PFOS/PFOA, the Navy said. The four remaining sample results ranged between 4.61 to 16.83 ng/L for PFOS/PFOA.

According to the Navy, the levels of concentration detected “indicate that PFOA and PFOS have not moved further from the facility at concentrations that would pose a risk to human health.”

The Navy says it will not provide alternate sources of drinking water for area residents, since no well exceeded the EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory.

The Navy has concluded there is no need to expand the range of private drinking water wells for testing.

“Had the Navy detected high concentrations of PFAS/PFOA in the nearby drinking water wells, the Navy would have reevaluated the scope of private drinking water wells that it would seek to test. These detections of low (or no) concentrations mean that the Navy will not expand the scope of its private drinking water well sampling footprint,” the Navy Facilities Engineering Command.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has not set actual limits for PFOS in drinking water, though a bill passed in the House earlier this month would require it to do so.

The PFAS Action Act of 2019 (H.R. 535) would require the EPA to designate PFOS/PFOA as hazardous substances, set drinking water standards and air emission limits and provide funding through the PFAS Infrastructure Grant Program to assist local communities with impacted water systems.

The bill passed the House of Representatives 247-159 on Jan. 10 in a largely party-line vote. First Congressional District Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a member of the Congressional PFAS Task Force, was one of 24 House Republicans to support the bill.

“Failure to act is not an option, and passage of this important legislation is a critical step to ensure local families have safe and clean drinking water,” Zeldin said in a statement after the vote. The legislation was sent to the Senate on Jan. 13.

The New York State health commissioner in July announced plans to adopt maximum contaminant levels of 10 parts per trillion for PFOS/PFOA. If adopted they would be the lowest limits in the nation. The public comment period on the proposed regulations expires March 9.

The sampling results announced by the Navy indicate that at least some of the private wells tested exceed the proposed state maximum contaminant levels. While the Navy said four of the 19 wells tested ranged between 4.61 to 16.83 parts per trillion for PFOS/PFOA, it did not release data about specific test results.

The Navy says it will re-evaluate whether to provide alternate drinking water in light of any adopted state standards.

“New York has proposed a more stringent standard for PFOS/PFOA. Should New York promulgate a standard, the Navy will reevaluate whether to provide an alternate drinking water source in light of that standard,” the Navy said in a document published on its website.

The Navy on Wednesday will present its field sampling findings at a meeting of the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve-Calverton Restoration Advisory Board at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Manorville Fire Department headquarters, 14 Silas Carter Road in Manorville.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.