Wainscott residents who gathered Sunday to discuss the drinking water in their hamlet left the meeting angry, bitter, and concerned.
The full-house gathering at Wainscott Chapel, hosted by the attorney Daniel Osborne and featuring a presentation by Paul Trafas, a drinking water contamination expert, was prepared for the worst and got just that: most of their wells are contaminated with dangerous chemicals, water unsafe to even bathe in, let alone drink.
The water is laced with PFCs, and there is little doubt it came from the East Hampton Town Airport and the industrial park next door. The most common PFCs in the wells, PFOA and PFOS, are commonly used at airports to dose engine fires and the like. Those in attendance were highly critical of the East Hampton Town Board members, who they say have ignored their concerns and put off taking remedial action.
The compounds have been found in varying amounts in about two-thirds of hamlet’s wells — thus far. Osborne explained that companies that used it in household products have minimized the dangers of the compound over the years.
Osborne has filed a class action suit against The 3M Company, which uses the compounds in its popular Scotchgard products, Cheguard, several fire protection companies, and East Hampton Town.
He is demanding the immediate installation of water filtration systems for every resident in the hamlet, access to public water, and monetary damages to compensate for diminished property values and lost rental and sale opportunities.
Osborne noted The 3M company just agreed to pay $850 million in damages to the state of Minnesota for polluting its water.
East Hampton Town Councilman Jeff Bragman, like all the board members, a Democrat, was elected in November. He was the only member of the five-person board who attended the meeting. He said he brought up the matter at a board meeting in March and has been pushing his colleagues to fund filtration systems ever since. “I would like the town to take the money out of the general fund now,” he said.
The town does provide drinking water to homeowners whose water has tested positive. “I have two five-gallon drums under my kitchen table and a pump. I have a bad back and I have to drag the thing around,” said Arthur French, a senior citizen. “I have to use it to do the dishes. It’s a joke.”
Those in attendance who spoke had little faith in their public officials. Steve Romm blasted the town board for going ahead with a housing project in Montauk. “They don’t give a damn about us,” he said loudly.
French said he has grandchildren who have been drinking the water; another speaker said the candidates came to Wainscott for a town meeting last fall, “and every one of you said, ‘Clean water. Clean water. I’m for clean water.’”
“These things have been around since 1949. Right now, the so-called safe level is 70 parts per trillion. Per trillion — think about that. Per trillion. It’s just a number they assign to it,” Osborne said.
Trafas, who runs Aqua-Future Inc, discussed the various filtration systems on the market. The town is investigating the cost of exploring filtrations systems on the affected wells. Some can be quite expensive and none are 100 percent certain to eliminate contaminants. “I would not drink the water,” he said.
Si Kinsella, in the forefront of the rebellion to force public water into the hamlet immediately — it would cost almost $16 million — has reported irrefutable evidence that at least one town board, Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, knew about the contaminated wells as early as January 2017, as did Bridget Fleming, the County Legislator. But sources said there is evidence the town was told as much in 2016 and sat on the information rather than order testing. If so, the liability could be significant.
There are several types of filtration systems on the market to deal with the problem sooner rather than later— some in the $12,000 range — and Bragman said he wants the town to pay for them.
Meanwhile, the arduous process of bringing piped-in water to the hamlet involves creating a water district, filing the necessary perms with assorted government agencies, contracting with the Suffolk County Water Authority to bring it and of course, to pay for it.
Speakers complained they are being given the cold shoulder by town board members, with the exception of Bragman. “I called and called. I was finally given the name of the person to talk to. I called her four times, and she never called back,” one audience member complained.
The veneer of invincibility has worn completely off #3M Osborne said. After years of being in denial, the company was found liable for pollution in a Minnesota neighborhood and faces lawsuits all over the country. Osborne hopes the same will happen here.
Trafas spent time in Hoosick falls upstate, where a PFOA contamination has wreaked havoc. According to the Times Union, almost two years ago the residents of the community near the Vermont border learned that their drinking water had been tainted by PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid. The chemical has been linked to cancer and thyroid disease. More recently, they found out contamination levels were four times higher than originally reported.
Osborne said his fee if the suit is successful could be anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of the damages awarded.