Data released by the Navy this week for the first time show significant detections of toxic PFAS chemicals at the southern border of the former aerospace manufacturing site.

Detection of the chemicals at the southern boundary of the site is significant, because it supports the position of elected officials, environmental advocates and community members that the chemicals could migrate offsite and pose a risk to private drinking water wells in the area and the Peconic River.

The Navy had not previously disclosed the data on PFAS chemicals in samples taken at the fence line system dating back to December 2017 — and in one instance, September 2016.

A Navy representative at an April 17, 2018 community meeting did reference sampling for PFAS at the fence line in the months prior to the meeting but did not provide the test results data.

The PFAS chemicals in some of the fence line samples exceeded the drinking water limits for the contaminants adopted this year by New York State — some by substantial amounts.

The Navy has previously disclosed PFAS contamination on the property itself and continues to investigate the extent of the contamination of the soil and groundwater onsite.

The Navy has sampled groundwater and drinking water wells within one mile of the property line for PFAS and has concluded no further offsite investigation is required. Environmental advocates and elected officials have demanded that the Navy test groundwater and private drinking water wells beyond the one-mile radius, arguing that any plume emanating from the former Grumman site could already have traveled beyond the one-mile line. So far, the Navy has stood fast in its position that a larger testing area is unnecessary.

The fence line treatment system, where the newly disclosed samples were taken, was implemented in 2013 to clean two groundwater plumes of certain volatile organic compounds designated by the Navy as “chemicals of concern.” The system was shut down in March 2019 after treatment goals set by the Navy had been achieved. The fence line system did not treat for PFAS chemicals or 1,4 dioxane — known as “emerging contaminants.”

There are no federal drinking water maximum contaminant levels for PFAS chemicals or 1,4 dioxane. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued lifetime “health advisory” exposure limits for PFAS of 70 parts per trillion. Navy representatives have stated at previous community meetings that the Navy is bound by the EPA advisory, not any state standard. At the most recent community meeting, which took place via video conference Nov. 12 due to the COVID pandemic, Navy representatives said the Navy is bound by a Department of Defense standard of 40 parts per trillion.

Data from the 2016-2017 samples were released this week to Calverton resident Stan Carey, a career public water supply professional who is a member of the New York State Water Quality Council. Carey also serves as chairman of the Riverhead Planning Board.

At the Nov. 12, RAB meeting, Carey asked if the Navy had data on PFAS and 1,4 dioxane at the fence line treatment system monitoring wells. On Wednesday, the Navy provided Carey with a map depicting the data he requested.

“I was actually very surprised they gave it to me,” Carey said in an interview Thursday.

“Of the sample results provided, eight are over the new MCL (maximum contaminant level) for PFOS/PFOA of 10 ppt. Some are extremely high,” Carey said.

Carey followed up with an email on Thursday asking the Navy if it has installed monitoring wells down-gradient of these sampling locations. Groundwater flows in a southeasterly direction from the area of the samples.

He also asked what the Navy is doing about the migration of the contaminants toward residential drinking water wells.

“I understand the fence line treatment system (now offline) was not designed to remove 1,4 Dioxane or PFOS/PFOA but the Navy should not be allowed to ignore the fact these contaminants are migrating further offsite (based on the flow direction arrows provided on the map),” Carey wrote in the email, which he cc’d to representatives of the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the State Department of Health and Sen. Chuck Schumer. “Can someone (DOH, DEC) please explain what will be done about this disturbing information?”

A Navy spokesperson could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has in the past urged the Navy to expand its investigation into PFAS groundwater contamination emanating from the Calverton site and to pay the cost of connecting residents in the area to public water, reacted strongly to the new data disclosure.

“It’s crystal clear that the Navy’s sampling is woefully inadequate and that we need an immediate investigation to protect public health,” Schumer said in an emailed statement yesterday.

“This map lays bare the failure of the Navy to expand its site investigation of PFAS and PFOA offsite to fully understand where these chemicals are,” Schumer said.

“Furthermore, they are failing to abide by state health standards by not immediately connecting nearby homes to public water. I look forward to addressing these failures with the incoming Secretary of Defense,” Schumer said.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment and a member of the Calverton Restoration Advisory Board, said yesterday the Navy, the State DEC and the State health department are not taking the situation seriously enough.

State officials must “hold [the Navy’s] feet to the fire,” the way they have done in Bethpage, where the Navy has been forced to clean up a huge toxic groundwater plume migrating off the Northrop Grumman site there.

In Calverton, “they’re dismissing it,” Esposito said. “They can’t just disregard it because it’s in a less populated area,” she said.

“These are called forever chemicals. They build up in our bodies and also in the ecosystem,” she said, noting that the plume is headed in the direction of the Peconic River.

“And the Navy won’t recognize that groundwater and drinking water are the same,” she said. “The Navy erroneously makes a distinction between groundwater and drinking water,” Esposito said. “That’s ridiculous. There is no distinction when your drinking water supply is the groundwater aquifer.”

“The groundwater is held in public trust,” Esposito said. “If the Navy or anybody pollutes it, it’s their responsibility to clean it up. The Navy needs to put their big boy pants on and clean it up.”

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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.