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Navy maps show Calverton contaminants may be heading toward homes

Groundwater flow maps released by the U.S. Navy last week show that exceedingly high levels of emerging toxic chemicals — PFOS, PFOA and 1,4-Dioxane — were detected in groundwater samples on the southern part of Navy property at Enterprise Park at Calverton and that the water is flowing toward the Peconic River and private drinking water wells.

Stan Carey of Calverton, who is chair of the Riverhead Town Planning Board and a superintendent in the Massapequa Water District, requested and received the map following a Nov. 12 meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board, which oversees the cleanup of land retained by the Navy when it turned over most of the former Navy property in 1998.

The map showed test levels of PFOS and PFOA at the property’s Fence Line Treatment Systems for 2016 through 2018. Testing results for 1,4-Dioxane also were included.

PFOA and PFOS are synthetic compounds often found in firefighting foam, which was used by Grumman,which formerly occupied the EPCAL site, as well as in other products. They are associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease. 1,4-Dioxane is a contaminant found in cosmetics, detergents and shampoos and is considered an irritant to eyes and can cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys.

The PFOA and PFOS detections showed several results that were over the current New York State limit of 10 parts per trillion, which was adopted in July. Prior to that, New York had a lifetime exposure risk of 75 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA.

The state also adopted a one part per billion standard for 1,4-Dioxane.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has a 40 parts per trillion groundwater standard, which is different from a drinking water standard, which is 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA. The Navy has been using the 40 parts per trillion standard at the Calverton site, despite the new stricter state limits. 

The Navy has thus far declined to do any further cleanup or testing of land that’s more than a mile outside the boundaries of the former Grumman site, saying it can only clean up or remediate land which was polluted by the Navy operations there.

“The Navy is responsible for making sure that contamination that is impacting private wells is emanating from the Navy’s property,” Lora Fly, remedial project manager for the Navy, who is overseeing the cleanup, said at the Nov. 12 meeting.

“At this point, we haven’t made a determination that the contamination is impacting the wells that are south of the golf course,” she said. “So until we find evidence that shows the contamination is coming from our land and is impacting private wells, we are not able to sample or do any remedial actions of these private wells.”

The Navy is only testing groundwater on the sites, not drinking water, she said. 

Ms. Fly said that in 2016 and 2017, and again in 2018 and 2019, the Navy did test private drinking water wells that were down gradient from 12 areas of concern, and all of those samplings were below the EPA’s health advisory levels. She said no further drinking water sampling is being planned in those areas, as the Navy is only authorized to address drinking water exposures that exceed the health advisory.

Ms. Fly said the Navy is confident it that it has done a good job in delineating 1,4-Dioxane based on sampling it has done.

Adrienne Esposito, a Restoration Advisory Board member as well as the executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, questioned why the Navy is still using the 40 parts per trillion standard instead of the new state standards.

“Why even bother to pay for those tests?” she said. “You’re putting information to the public saying it’s OK and it’s not OK.” 

Ms. Fly said the 40 parts per trillion standard is for groundwater, not drinking water, to which Ms. Esposito responded that the groundwater is the drinking water in this area.

Ms. Fly said the Department of Defense is looking at state standards and will make the determination as to whether to implement them or not. 

But Mr. Carey, who has been involved in disputes with the Navy regarding contamination at its Bethpage site, which affects Massapequa, says that a Fence Line Treatment System on the southern portion of the property along River Road was designed to remove TCE (trichloroethylene), a volatile organic compound used mostly in industrial and commercial processes, from the groundwater, then treat it and inject it back into the groundwater. 

Mr. Carey says the Fence Line Treatment System was not designed to remove PFOS, PFOA or 1,4-Dioxane from the water. As a result, the system was removing TCE but not PSAS, PFOA or 1,4-Dioxane, Mr. Carey said in an interview Monday. 

Instead, “they were injecting them back into the groundwater through infiltration galleries. So there was continuously contamination of the groundwater,” he said. 

What’s more, since groundwater moves about a foot per day, the contaminated water could now be more than a mile off site in the 22 years that the town has owned the Calverton property, and is heading toward homes that use private wells for drinking water.

The Navy’s maps show that the groundwater flow on the southern part of the property moves south and southeast, and then heads east when it hits the Peconic River, Mr. Carey said.

The Navy stopped using the Fence Line Treatment System in 2019, saying it had met its goals, according to Ms. Fly. 

There are about 60 homes in the Calverton and Manorville sections of Riverhead Town that do not have access to public water, and those homeowners have been trying to convince Riverhead Town to extend that service, and the Navy to pay for it.

Earlier this year, Manorville resident Kelly McClinchey circulated a petition with 64 signatures from residents and businesses urging the town to connect them to public water.

“The Navy has told us in no uncertain terms that they will not test our wells,” she said at the time.

Last Wednesday, Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar issued a press release urging the state and federal government to assist in developing an action plan to swiftly address the alarming PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-Dioxane contaminants, which she said threaten the water supply to residents south and east of the former U.S. Navy site at Grumman.

“It is critical that every Riverhead resident have access to clean and safe drinking water,” the supervisor said. “The sample results recently released by the U.S. Navy identified PFOA indicated exceedingly high levels” from wells south of the Navy site.

“This new information clearly demonstrates the need to expand testing efforts beyond the U.S. Navy one-mile limit and address contaminates at NYS drinking water standards,” she said. “The Town of Riverhead, along with state and federal representatives will collectively approach the U.S. Navy and demand immediate mitigation to ensure residents are provided with safe and clean drinking water.”

In February, the Riverhead Town Board unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing the preparation of a Map and Plan for the extension of the Riverhead Water District to serve residents and businesses south of the former Grumman site.

Mark Woolley, a representative for Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), said at the Nov. 12 meeting that the congressman will work with the Navy and stakeholders “to do its best and leave no stone unturned.”

“Our groundwater is our drinking water and our job is to protect it as well as we can,” he said. 

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) also recently pledged his support and urged the Navy to quickly develop a plan to connect the homes to public water. 

Mr. Carey said in an interview that federal assistance may be the only way to connect the residents to public water because the cost of connecting such as small group of residents to public water would be extremely expensive for homeowners.