“HAMPTON BAYS, N.Y. ― Dena Castello-Janesh knew something was wrong with the water in her new house when it got in her eye during a shower and burned. She’d just moved to Hampton Bays a week earlier, in June 2017, and freaked out about her two-year-old son bathing and drinking from the tap. She hired a plumber to replace the pipes and install a full-house filtration system, and even added an extra reverse-osmosis filter in the kitchen for good measure.
She didn’t know it at the time, but this quaint, seaside hamlet on Long Island’s southern fork had been dealing with toxic water contamination for more than a year.
In May 2016, water authorities discovered perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, a toxic chemical linked to cancer, thyroid problems and chronic kidney disease, in the water supply. The chemical came from firefighting foam that ran off into a nearby well. The town shut the contaminated well down within a week. Within days of Castello-Janesh moving in, officials found PFOS in another well the city draws from and shut it down. In August, a third city well had to be shuttered.
The town began work installing a special carbon filtration system with a $720,000 grant from the state. But late last month, Castello-Janesh awoke to find black and brown sediment in her toilet. The water coming from her faucets was murky, too. While PFOS is an invisible, odorless chemical that clings to water molecules, this was something different. Another type of contamination had breached her filters.
Castello-Janesh panicked. She called the town. Water authorities assured her there was nothing to worry about ― that it was the result of too many people watering their lawns. With three wells offline, heavy use was taxing the already-diminished water supply. The woman on the phone compared the situation to a car with a drained gas tank, operating on fumes, and insisted there was nothing to worry about…
Hampton Bays fits a pattern in New York, where a number of municipalities face water contamination crises. Like other municipalities with water tainted by PFOS or similar chemicals, the town is small, sleepy and working-class. The state has doled out money for filtration systems, but many residents are concerned officials aren’t doing enough to clean up the contamination at the source, leaving them feeling abandoned and paranoid about the efficacy of filters.
But Hampton Bays stands out as a slow-burner, an infrastructure disaster that simmered to boil over two years. Officials acted quickly to shutter wells where PFOS levels exceeded a conservative federal health advisory. But critics say authorities failed to respond proactively, allowing the wells to remain in use even though mountain evidence suggests the federal limit is far too high. And they say local officials have neglected a dwindling water supply, allowing sediment to build up in pipes and spew into homes.
The dark, silty residue is harmless, state officials say. Robert King, the town’s water superintendent, said it’s rust that naturally accumulates in pipes that was kicked up by unusually high demand on the district’s remaining active wells…
‘This is a town where the help lives,’ said Castello-Janesh, who works in medical sales but whose husband, Rob, is a chef at a nearby luxury golf course. They moved here because it was his dream job.
‘Is it because we’re working-class?’ said Shelley Borkowski, 63, who has lived in Hampton Bays for six years. ‘Is it because we’re not East Hampton or Southampton?’…
In a joint statement to HuffPost, officials from New York’s Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation said the state is working on a database to track PFAS contamination and has set aside $600,000 to help municipal fire departments dispose of contaminated foam. The statement said more than 20,000 gallons of foam had been collected by the end of 2017.”
Read the full article by Alexander C. Kaufman