In Depth News

Town Guilty of Negligence?

Wainscott resident Si Kinsella feels East Hampton town officials failed to take proper action in response to repeated warnings of contamination of the town’s private drinking wells in January 2016.

Kinsella, former chairman of Wainscott’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee, said that at a 2016 CAC meeting he warned them of a strong probability of drinking water contamination, particularly the presence of perfluorinated compounds. Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez was there to witness it, he said.

Burke-Gonzalez did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.

Kinsella is in possession of 284 laboratory test results done by the Suffolk County Water Authority in August, 2017 pertaining to PFC contamination found in drinking-water wells in Wainscott.

PFCs are manmade chemicals used to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. They’re also found in foam spray firefighters use and are commonly used to combat jet fuel fires. The Georgica Aquifer, which provides drinking water in Wainscott, flows south towards the ocean.

The contamination uncovered last summer by the SCWA in groundwater beneath Wainscott is believed to have emanated from the various industrial properties in and around the airport as well as airport activities. Even if the source was the nearby industrial park, which once housed several aircraft-related businesses, the town would likely be negligent because it owns the land and provided incentives for businesses to move there.

“I wrote a letter about it in 2016,” Kinsella said. “That’s how long I’ve been pushing for the testing.”

He testified at a Water Quality Hearing hosted by New York State senator Kemp Hannon in Smithtown in January 2016 and discussed the possible relationship between PFCs and the airport that year. Hannon’s subsequent report, released in March 2016, highlighted the concerns regarding Wainscott water.

“The results are cause for genuine concern,” Kinsella wrote in a letter earlier this year to the town. “I believe the survey area should be expanded all the way southward to the Atlantic Ocean and that residents living within the revised survey area who do not have access to public water need to install appropriate residential filtration systems immediately. The filtration system should reduce contamination levels of the aforementioned perfluorinated compounds to less than 10 parts per trillion”.

“That’s why they came after me,” said Kinsella.

Now, the town is embroiled in a lawsuit and faces the cost of bringing public water into the hamlet — a chore that could cost $16 million or more, according to the town’s own estimates.

Kinsella wrote to Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc on March 26 of this year about the possibility of negligence.

He also said that based on additional data provided by the SCWA the town should bring public water to virtually every resident of the hamlet who doesn’t already have it and not just to homeowners whose wells tested positive for Perfluorooctanoic acid or Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid.

There are still 100 or so wells untested for various reasons, including the fact the town has been unable to get permission from some residents.

“I can’t comment on matters of litigation,” Van Scoyoc said when asked about the alleged contamination.

“It should be noted there were no test results for properties owned by the Town of East Hampton although these properties are arguably the most susceptible to PFC contamination,” Kinsella wrote in the letter.

Kinsella’s action comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought by Wainscott resident Kate Shipman that will likely be expanded. Shipman’s class action suit was filed “on behalf of unnamed homeowners and renters.” The suit alleges negligence and seeks unspecified damages.

The Shipman suit reinforces Kinsella’s suspicion that the town knew the foam was being used at the airport for years.

The town is considering the installation of water filters in homes where contamination has been detected as a stopgap measure until public water can be installed and the town board agreed to seek pricing options for the filters. Meanwhile, bottled water is being delivered to each affected home.

“They have to do something. There are pregnant women. I am disappointed they didn’t act quickly,” Kinsella said. “The town is complicit in the delay and therefore negligent.”