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Navy says it can’t expand focus of EPCAL water tests

Officials at the Naval Facilities Engineering Command said they have no plans at this point to expand groundwater testing of homes near Enterprise Park at Calverton. 

Specifically, they referred to the area of Manorville that’s located in Riverhead Town but not connected to the town Water District.

Toni Pawson of River Road in Manorville said she and her neighbors have private wells, and the Navy will not agree to test them for chemical compounds associated with firefighting foam used at Grumman. 

The target of the testing was a compound known as PFAS (poly- and perfluoroalkyl), which was found in a firefighting foam used at Grumman to put out fuel fires.

That type of foam has since been identified as causing potential health effects such as increased cholesterol, decreased fertility, immune system changes and increased risk of certain types of cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I am resident and I’m just south of Swan Pond and you just stated that you’re getting high concentration levels, and you’re pointing to where my backyard is,” Ms. Pawson said at a Nov. 13 meeting of the NAVFAC Restoration Advisory Board, which oversees efforts to clean up contamination caused the Navy and Grumman on parts of what is now known as EPCAL. 

Ms. Pawson said the state Department of Environmental Conservation already tests her well for MTBE, a gasoline additive, and Brookhaven National Lab tests her soil for mercury. 

But she said the Navy has refused to do so for PFAS, even if she agreed to pay.

“The Navy can only test areas associated with its operations,” said Dave Brayack of Tetra Tech, a contractor working on the Navy cleanup. He said they believe that any PFAS found in this area south of Swan Lake was caused by something other than the Navy. 

“What’s the reluctance to testing that very small neighborhood?,” County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said. “You can get information on the flow of material if it’s detected, and if now, then it’s not there.”

In September, the Navy asked permission to test drinking water from private wells near EPCAL, which was used by the Navy and the Grumman Corporation from 1954 to 1996 to manufacture and test fighter planes.

The EPCAL property, now owned by private companies and Riverhead Town, with a few small pieces still owned by the Navy, is hooked up to the Riverhead Water District, so the Navy was looking to test wells that are within a one-mile area around the fire training site.

About 230 properties were initially identified and the Navy requested to sample 53 of them that were possibly not hooked up to the water district. 

Of these, 29 were later confirmed to be hooked into public water or to be vacant property. 

So samples were collected on 14 parcels and none of the results tested higher than the EPA’s Drinking Water Lifetime Health Advisory. 

The LHA is 70 nanograms per liter. 

But Stan Carey, the chairman of the Riverhead Town Planning Board as well as a water district superintendent in Nassau County, said that New York State uses the LHA because it doesn’t have a drinking water standard for PFAS.

New Jersey recently adopted its standard at 14 ng/l and Mr. Carey said the New York State is planning to adopt a similar standard soon.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation identified PFAS as a hazardous substance in March 2017, according to Mr. Brayack. 

Aqueous Film Forming Forms (AFFF) were used to extinguish fires at the Grumman site, Mr. Brayack said. PFAS were used to make AFFF from the 1960s to 2001, he said. 

Officials said AFFF was banned in New York last year. Mr. Brayack said the Navy doesn’t know if AFFF was used to fight forest fires.

There were four monitoring wells near the fire training site that had test results exceeding the LHA, according to Mr. Brayack, but he said nobody drinks that water because the area is in the town water district. 

Mr. Brayack said the groundwater flows in a southeast direction, toward Peconic River, which would not be in the direction of Ms. Pawson’s house. 

“The DEC is checking my water every three months but you guys don’t want to,” Ms. Pawson said. “I just don’t understand why the hesitance to test the residents. OK, there’s not many of us, but can’t we just get included in this? We’re surrounded by it. I can’t fathom this. Just test it, and if it’s not there, I move on and you never see my face again.”

Lora Fly of NAVFAC Mid-Atlantic said the Navy will we go back on its property and do sampling to determine if we need to go any further.

But she said they cannot go outside of what they believe is caused by the Navy. 

Mr. Carey asked why the Navy would still use the federal LHA when it knows New York is likely to pass a new, much stricter standard, like New Jersey.

“So what you’re saying is, today, it’s OK to drink a little PFAS, but a year from now not going to be OK?” he asked. 

Ms. Fly responded: “Everything is based on standards or guidelines we have at this time. There’s still a lot of information that needs to be gathered to determined risk of cancer.”

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