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Manorville residents say contaminated water has gotten them sick, request public water from Riverhead Town

Manorville residents want the Navy to expand its testing for potential groundwater contaminants from the Enterprise Park at Calverton to include more sites outside the fence.

They also want Riverhead Town to extend public water to their neighborhood, where many residents have private wells and say their water is contaminated and they have gotten sick from it. 

The issues were discussed at a meeting of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command’s Restoration Advisory Board last Wednesday at the Manorville firehouse.

The NAVFAC is in charge of cleaning up contamination at the former Navy-owned Grumman site in Calverton and deals specifically with contamination caused by the Navy and its contractors, which manufactured and tested aircrafts there. Its Restoration Advisory Board holds two meetings per year. 

The Navy gave the property, which was home to the Grumman Corporation for many years, to Riverhead Town in 1998 but retained some parcels where contamination needed to be remedied before they could be turned over. Cleanup is ongoing for several of those properties. 

Residents have submitted a petition with 63 signatures asking the town to extend public water to their neighborhood. Resident Kelly McClinchy, who has led the petition drive, said only one person they contacted declined to sign the petition. 

The Navy cleanup has focused on what’s known as perflouroalkyl and polyflouroalkyl substances, or PFAS. It is a man-made compound that has been used in fire fighting foam, stain-resistant carpets, water-resistant fabrics, nonstick cookware and food packaging, among other uses. 

It was used at Grumman in fire-fighting foam to put out fuel fires. Health impacts from PFAS include increased cholesterol levels, changes in growth, learning and behavior in developing fetuses, immune system changes, decreased fertility, altered hormone function and increased risk of cancer, according to the Navy. 

“I’ve gone to the county, they tell me there’s nothing wrong with my water,” said one man in attendance last Wednesday, who did not give his name. “But if I have it tested by a private company, they tell me there’s everything wrong with my water. And when I have blood work done, they tell me I have mercury poisoning and arsenic poisoning. How is it possible that I have all these problems?”

The man said he was told he could not get public water because there are not enough homes in his neighborhood, which is part of Riverhead Town. 

Lori Fly, representing NAVFAC Mid-Atlantic, said she doesn’t have the expertise to deal with issues such as how contaminants accumulate in the bloodstream, and said the man should contact the county health department. 

“We won’t test water unless there is contamination that is attributable to the Navy,” Ms. Fly said. 

“We make our pasta with bottled water,” said Christine Scharf of River Road. “We boil bottled water. That’s how scared we are to drink our water, or even use our water, even to shower with. It’s a daily concern.”

Ms. Scharf and other speakers want the Navy to test groundwater as far west as Wading River-Manorville Road. Currently, the Navy tests wells along the southern EPCAL boundary as far west as Line Road. 

Ms. Fly said they stopped testing there because the detection levels were all at minimal levels and because there were no facilities there.

“We’re only testing where there are buildings or facilities,” she said. 

Some residents said that if the Navy continued cleanup efforts heading west, “you might find another dumping site that nobody knows about.”

Ms. Fly said PFAS wasn’t considered a hazardous chemical in the past, so it’s unlikely that someone would go into the woods and dump it.

Toni Pawson of River Road said her water has tested positive for MTBE, a gasoline additive. She said she’s known about it for about two years, and the town will not extend public water there. 

Bill Ebert of River Road said his water also has tested positive for MTBE. He says the Navy “is just trying to wash it under the table.”

“If you have all those wells and they are showing signs of MTBE, you would continue further west to find the source,” Mr. Ebert said. “It only makes sense. But they don’t want to, because once they find that it’s their fault, they’re liable.”

Ms. Fly said the Navy has installed 10 test wells on River Road, which is outside the Navy/EPCAL property, because it’s within a one mile radius of the groundwater flow from the former Grumman site. She said they plan to test wells further south of River Road as well. 

Backing the residents in their call for additional testing was Mark Woolley, a representative for Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

“We want the Navy to continue sampling, not just inside the fence, but we want you to do outside the fence, and we want extensive sampling,” Mr. Woolley said. “These folks are very concerned because their drinking water is being impacted by what’s happening on the Grumman property.”

Mr. Woolley said that Mr. Zeldin “will make sure that extensive sampling is done and if there is remediation that needs to be done past the fence, off the property, that’s another thing the Navy needs to consider.”

He said officials need to figure out the cost of hooking up to public water, be it from Riverhead Town or, if needed, from the Suffolk County Water Authority. 

“And maybe if the Navy is responsible for some of this, it would have to be held responsible, and would have to pick up part of the cost of installing public water.”

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar supported Mr. Woolley’s comments.

“This has to be mitigated,” she said. “We need a risk assessment done.”

Dave Braback of Tetra Tech, the contractor working with the Navy on the cleanup, said just because something has PFAS doesn’t mean it’s automatically connected to the EPCAL cleanup. 

If someone had Teflon tape on plumbing, or used Teflon spray, or used StainMaster carpeting, PFAS would be detected, he said. 

“Let’s be clear, people making eggs over easy in a Teflon pan is not making 70 parts per trillion to show up a drinking water wells,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “If that were true, every well in America would have 70 parts per trillion — and that’s not the case.”