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Calverton, Manorville launch sign campaign for ‘Clean Water Now’

Claire Bennett of Manorville has her drinking water tested monthly by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and over the past five years the chemicals found in those test results have included MTBE, benzene, acetone, isopropylbenezene, tetrahydrofuran, 1,2 Dichloroethane and chloromethane.

The levels of MTBE, a fuel additive that has caused cancer in lab animals, were at 110 parts per billion in 2016 tests, whereas as the maximum allowed contaminant level for MTBE in New York State was 10 ppb. 

Last Saturday, Ms. Bennett brought two one-gallon containers of water to an event in Manorville held by residents trying to get public water extended to their neighborhood.

One bottle came from the supermarket and was clear; the other, containing water from Ms. Bennett’s tap, was light brown or yellow. 

Ms. Bennett was one of about 30 Manorville residents who gathered at a neighbor’s house last Saturday to launch a campaign aimed at getting public water extended to their homes. Residents say they don’t drink the water, but they still have to shower in it. 

Calverton and Manorville residents living south of Grumman Boulevard want to be hooked up to the public water supply. Resident Ron Martz said they’ve been seeking a connection to public water for about 20 years, to no avail, and that a number of neighbors have died of cancer during that time. 

Residents of 126 homes that rely on private drinking water wells in Manorville and Calverton say they are threatened by toxic contamination in their groundwater. They say there have been epidemiological studies of the area but are always told the results are inconclusive.

This home on River Road in Calverton is one of more than 200 with ‘Clean Water Now’ signs. It’s probably the only one with a dinosaur skeleton holding the sign, however. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The homes are divided evenly between Riverhead and Brookhaven towns. 

Riverhead has its own water district, while Brookhaven is served by the Suffolk County Water Authority. 

Signs that read “Clean Water Now” can now be found on lawns throughout the two hamlets. 

“Today is about demonstrating a continued and accelerated community demand and need for clean water,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a nonprofit group that helped launch the campaign. 

About 120 signs have been posted throughout the area.

“Clean, safe, reliable drinking water is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Ms. Esposito said. 

“It’s important that anybody who comes into this community knows that the signs they see represent a family that is potentially drinking contaminated water,” said Kelly McClinchy, a Manorville resident who has led a petition drive to get public water extended to the community. 

“It’s evident that there is a problem here,” she said. “And it’s just as important to us to continue to get the message out to the elected officials that we are not sitting idly by and waiting. We expect — and we’re asking for — action.”

Residents of Calverton and Manorville have raised concerns that the U.S. Navy’s operations — when it leased the Calverton site to the Grumman Corporation — have led to water contamination that affected their wells to the south of the Navy site. 

The Navy has acknowledged causing some pollution at the site. It cleaned up 144 acres and turned that land over to the town in 2007 and now retains 208 acres that it is trying to remediate. 

However, the Navy says it is not responsible for the pollution south of Grumman Boulevard in homes in Manorville and Calverton. 

Congressman Lee Zeldin recently submitted a $7.2 million funding request to extend water to the Riverhead Town portions of Calverton and Manorville that need public water and a $5.4 million funding request for the Brookhaven Town portion on behalf of SCWA. 

Riverhead Town officials say they don’t want SCWA expanding inside the town, saying they fear it is trying to take over the town water district. 

“We are in a position where we want clean water wherever it comes from, and we want it now,” said Ms. McClinchy.

“The community wants clean water,” Ms. Esposito said. “We don’t want politics to be a stumbling block to community needs. And this battle is nothing but a political hot potato that draws attention away from the need for clean water. That’s one of the reasons we’re having this event today. We don’t care where the clean water comes from. But it needs to be expedited and it needs to be at no cost to the residents.”

Ms. McClinchy said another issue residents are facing is low pressure from fire hydrants in the neighborhood. 

“We have fire wells that are pretty much insufficient to pump enough water to put out a fire,” she said. Extending public water would help with that situation too, she said. 

The Suffolk County Health Department sampled 95 private wells in the Manorville/Calverton area in December and detected various contaminants at levels that exceed state and federal drinking water standards, officials say. These included 15 wells that showed the presence of PFOS and PFAS — toxic manmade chemical compounds that for decades have had a variety of uses, including in firefighting foam — among the contaminants.