The area of Calverton where private wells are contaminated with PFAS and 1,4 dioxane. Riverhead Town is looking to extend public water to the area with the help of state grant funds. Image: Google Earth

Riverhead is seeking grant funding from New York State to help the Riverhead Water District provide public water to an area of Calverton near the terminus of the Long Island Expressway where health-threatening contaminants have been identified in private drinking water wells.

The water district would be extended and public water mains would be installed to serve about 50 occupied properties — mostly residential — on Middle Road, South Twomey Avenue and Deep Hole Road in Calverton.

PFAS was detected at more than three times the maximum contaminant level in one private residential well on the west end of Middle Road in Calverton. It is one of several homes in the area that were identified through well-water sampling this year as impacted by volatile organic compounds, including Freon-12, PFAS and 1,4 Dioxane.

The DEC is currently providing bottled water and performing quarterly drinking water sampling at five homes and one business on Middle Road that are not served by public water, the agency told RiverheadLOCAL in August. Freon-12 and 1,4 Dioxane cannot be effectively removed by point-of-entry water treatment systems, while PFAS can be removed by those types of systems, the DEC said.

Residential and agricultural uses in that area of Calverton have coexisted with nearby longterm industrial uses, such as Suffolk Cement and Sears Ready Mix, both on Middle Road and Coastal Pipeline Products on Twomey Avenue. A proposal for a materials processing facility on Middle Road adjacent to Sears Ready Mix is currently under review by the town and the DEC. The area has been zoned for industrial uses since the town first adopted a zoning ordinance.

The total cost of the project could be as high as almost $13 million, according to a resolution approved by the town board Wednesday.

The community development department is in the process of applying for state grant funding that could cover as much as 60% of the cost of the project, Community Development Director Dawn Thomas told the board Wednesday before it voted to approve the resolution, a determination of non-significance under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The grant application is due Nov. 22. Thomas said the town has been working with water district engineering consultants H2M on the proposal.

The State Environmental Facilities Corporation is offering $400 million in grants during the 2021-2022 state fiscal year to municipalities with infrastructure projects that protect public health and/or improve water quality, according to the agency. Critical water infrastructure projects that combat emerging contaminants, such as PFAS and 1,4-dioxane with system upgrades are eligible for funding.

The acronym PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and refers to two contaminants: perfluoroctanoic acid, known as PFOA and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, known as PFOS. PFAS consists of more than 9,000 human-made compounds known as “forever chemicals” because they are so slow to break down. They are known to have a wide range of health risks.

PFAS can be found in food grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water, in food packaged in materials containing PFAS, and food processed with equipment that used PFAS. The chemicals can also be found in common household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams. Some industrial processes, such as chrome plating and electronics manufacturing also use PFAS.

1,4-dioxane is a synthetic industrial chemical, classified as a volatile organic compound, that was commonly used as a stabilizer of chlorinated solvents, paint strippers, greases and waxes. It is a flammable liquid and a fire hazard and potentially explosive, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has classified 1,4-dioxane as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” by all routes of exposure.

PFAS and 1,4-dioxane are known as “emerging contaminants” because they were identified relatively recently and were not regulated or event tested for by environmental and health agencies.

New York in 2020 was the first state in the U.S. to set maximum contaminant levels for PFAS and 1,4 Dioxane. The State Department of Health set the MCL for both at 10 parts per trillion.

Emerging contaminants: a widespread problem

Groundwater contamination by PFAS and 1,4-dioxane is likely widespread across Long Island, which relies on a network of underground aquifers for its drinking water supply. PFAS has been detected at one of the Riverhead Water District’s wells so far and the district is presently working to install a filtration system at the well, located at a two-well plant site on Middle Road in Riverhead. The district blends water pumped from the two wells so that the water provided to water district customers meets state drinking water standards.

Recent sampling at existing monitoring wells at the Riverhead landfill, which closed in 1993, showed maximum concentrations of 110 parts per trillion for PFOA, more than 10 times the state limit and 49 parts per trillion for PFOS, RiverheadLOCAL reported in September. The state began testing drinking water wells downgrading of the landfill — it had identified 15 private wells at risk — for the chemical contaminants.

Significant detections of PFAS in groundwater at the southern border of the former U.S. Navy aerospace manufacturing site in Calverton were disclosed by the Navy a year ago. PFAS levels at monitoring wells there exceeded the state limit. The Navy first learned of the PFAS contamination at it fence line monitoring system there in September 2016, but did not make its findings public until November 2020. The Navy had 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 denied responsibility for any offsite remediation, despite pressure from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Lee Zeldin.

There are 128 homes without access to public water south and southeast of the former Navy site in Calverton, where Northrop Grumman manufactured and tested military jets and equipment for decades. Sampling by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and the Suffolk County Water Authority last year found PFAS in 15% of the private wells in the area. The homes are about every divided between Riverhead and Brookhaven towns. The Riverhead Water District and the Suffolk County Water Authority have both applied for federal funding to provide public water to the homes, located in Manorville and Calverton.The fate of that funding rests with the outcome of negotiations over the hotly contested infrastructure bill in Congress.

There are 198 private wells in the Town of Riverhead, Riverhead Water District Superintendent told RiverheadLOCAL in September.

The town last November authorized a federal product liability lawsuit against three major manufacturers of PFAS, seeking damages related to the Riverhead Water District’s drinking water supply. That action was filed in federal district court in February and remains pending.

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