Photo: Adobe Stock

After finding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the former Grumman site in Calverton, the Navy will conduct further testing to determine the extent of PFAS groundwater contamination there.

In a letter dated Aug. 12, the Department of the Navy asked the town to allow its engineers access to two town-owned parcels at the former Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant to conduct additional environmental investigation.

The town board at its meeting Tuesday authorized the supervisor to sign a consent agreement granting the Navy access to town’s property.

The investigation will also include three Navy-owned parcels at the EPCAL site and will last approximately two years, the Navy said in the letter. The Navy plans to obtain additional soil samples and install both temporary wells and long-term monitoring wells at the site. The monitoring wells will remain in place until the investigation is complete and will be accessed every three to six months to collect groundwater samples.

Location of existing and proposed test site
Image: Department of the Navy Engineering Command

PFAS are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries since the 1940s. 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.

The chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.

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 occupied by the Grumman Aerospace Corp. (later Northrop-Grumman) from the early 1950s through the mid-1990s. Grumman manufactured, assembled and tested military aircraft there. The Navy began its assessment of environmental conditions at the site in the mid-1980s. When when the federal government transferred the site to the Town of Riverhead in 1998, the Navy retained three parcels of land inside the fenced 2,900-acre site due to environmental contamination.

There was an unusually high turnout for the Navy’s semiannual meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board on Jan. 29 in Manorville. File photo: Denise Civiletti

At its most recent Restoration Advisory Board meeting, held at the Manorville Fire Department headquarters on Jan. 29, the Navy said it had tested, with homeowners’ consent, 14 private drinking water wells on properties near the facility and none of the samples 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, which, the Navy said, did not exceed the EPA’s lifetime health advisory.

Navy representatives told a large crowd that turned out for the January RAB meeting that 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.”

Since the Jan. 29 RAB meeting, the State of New York adopted maximum contaminant levels of 10 parts per trillion each for PFOA and PFOS and 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane — another contaminant found at the former Grumman site.

Also since January, the federal Environmental Protection Agency
announced its preliminary determination to regulate PFOS and PFOA in drinking water.

Some residents in the sparsely populated area south of the former Grumman site, where there is no access to public water, fear present and future contamination of their private wells and have been asking the Riverhead Water District to extend service to their homes. The relatively small number of homes to be served and the distance from the nearest town water district main made an extension cost-prohibitive for the district as well as the homeowners, who would typically bear the cost of the extension.

The Suffolk County Water Authority, which serves the adjacent area and has mains in proximity to the homes in question, offered to test the private wells and serve the community with public water. While the homes are located in the Town of Riverhead, the water authority says any property in the county not already served by a public water district is within its service area, pursuant to the SCWA’s state charter. The Riverhead Water District says its service area is the entire Town of Riverhead, whether or not it currently serves a particular location.

After water authority officials publicly stated the authority would pursue providing the area with public water, the Riverhead Town Board on Feb. 19 authorized Riverhead Water District engineering consultants H2M to prepare a map and plan for an extension to serve the area.

Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who during her campaign for office last year accused then-incumbent supervisor Laura Jens-Smith of making a secret deal with the water authority to take over the town’s water district — which Jens-Smith and SCWA officials denied — described the the measure authorizing a map and plan for the extension as an effort “to derail” SCWA’s plans to extend a main into Riverhead to serve the Manorville area.

“We want to keep the water district in Riverhead and we don’t want the county to take it over,” Aguiar said at the Feb. 19 town board meeting.

To date, the map and plan authorized in February has not been publicly presented to or discussed by the town board, which serves as the governing body of the Riverhead Water District.

The debate between the SCWA and the Town of Riverhead over water service areas extends to the former Grumman site itself. Any new development on the 1,643 acres under contract to be sold to a Triple Five Group affiliate would require public water.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation in July notified the town that it would be required to prove it has capacity to serve the new development as well as the rest of its district during peak demand times. The DEC also said the town would be required to demonstrate that SCWA has no objection to the Riverhead Water District serving the EPCAL site.

An investigation following that notice revealed that the Riverhead Water District, since at least the late 1990s, has built between 30 and 40 water district extensions — including an extension to serve the “industrial core” portion of the former Grumman site previously sold by the town to a developer — without the water withdrawal permits required by the State Environmental Conservation Law. The district also built and operated a two new wells without first obtaining a water supply permit from the DEC, according to the notices of violation issued by the DEC in 2005 and 2008 and a December 2009 consent order between the DEC and the Riverhead Water District, which were obtained from the DEC by RiverheadLOCAL through a Freedom of Information Law request.

The 2009 consent order required the water district to adhere to a compliance schedule and pay the state a $80,000 civil penalty, $30,000 of which was suspended providing the district remained in full compliance with the consent order.

The SCWA met with homeowners in the Manorville/Calverton area on Feb. 20 and was making arrangements with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services for expedited testing of the private wells for some 400 contaminants, including 1,4-Dioxane, PFOS and PFOA, at no cost to residents. Then the coronavirus crisis hit New York and the testing was delayed.

SCWA and health department officials met with area residents again last week, Manorville resident Kelly McClinchy said Tuesday. Sampling of private wells in the area has been rescheduled for early October and the testing area has expanded from about 60 houses to about 120 now, McClinchy said.

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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.