Image: Suffolk County Department of Health Services

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services is conducting private water well surveys in Calverton in neighborhoods immediately south of Peconic Lake after detecting harmful chemicals above state drinking water standards in 21 properties in the area.

According to a press release issued Wednesday, the DHS has detected the toxic chemical PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) above the 10 parts-per-trillion drinking water standard in 13 wells in the neighborhood. PFOS is a member of a class of chemicals known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which have been used in a number of industrial and commercial products such as firefighting foam, food packaging and water-resistant clothing, and that studies show may be linked to certain negative health outcomes including increased risk of cancer, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

The DHS said 21 of the estimated 39 properties that are served by private wells in the existing survey area have already been sampled and it will be expanding the survey area to include approximately 25 additional properties. Residents serviced by private wells in the area, which is in the Town of Brookhaven and stretches south of the Peconic River along portions of South River Road and Pinehurst Boulevard north of Nugent Drive, can call the DHS Office of Water Resources at 631-852-5810 to have their private wells tested free of charge. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation offers residents an alternative source of drinking water if the wells are polluted above the drinking water standard set by the state.

The DHS said its Public and Environmental Health Laboratory is also conducting the analysis of private well samples for other standard chemical constituents, including chlorinated VOCs, metals and 1,4 dioxane. It  has installed groundwater monitoring wells to assist in identifying a potential PFAS source area.

Some homes in the area are serviced by public water and do not need to have their water tested, according to the press release. The area is not in the Riverhead Water District or the Suffolk County Water Authority Service area, according to maps.

PFAS pollution has also been detected in private water wells in neighborhoods close to the area, such as off of River Road on the west side of the Long Island Expressway, where a Riverhead Water District extension is proposed. 

PFAS chemicals were detected in groundwater at the former Northrop Grumman site in Calverton as early as 2016 and has been migrating off-site, apparently impacting private drinking water wells south and southeast of the former Naval manufacturing facility, which was shut down in 1994. Well-water testing at residences in the area confirmed PFAS contamination in the area, with the chemicals present in some wells at levels higher than the state allows.  

The potential that the water pollution at the Grumman site has migrated to the nearby area has been an argument used by residents in Manorville and off River Road, who are calling on the U.S. Navy, who previously owned the property, to pay for public water extension to their homes.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said at the Town Board meeting Wednesday that the U.S. Navy has agreed to speak with the town about PFAS contamination in wells around EPCAL on a call Friday. Town officials have sent maps and plans for the Manorville and River Road extensions multiple times to U.S. Navy officials at their request, but the Navy has so far been unreceptive to funding the projects. Aguiar said she will notify the town of the outcome of the call in a press release. 

Riverhead Town in February 2021 brought a federal lawsuit against three major chemical manufacturers seeking compensatory and punitive damages for groundwater contamination by chemicals manufactured by the companies, the 3M Company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, and the Chemours Company. That action is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Correction 07/07/22 10:05 a.m.: The original version of this article erroneously stated that the Calverton area referenced was serviced by the Riverhead Water District due to the misreading of a Riverhead Water District map. It is not serviced by the Riverhead Water District.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]