Toxic PFOA & PFOS at levels above EPA guidelines were discovered in a well between Westchester County Airport and the Kensico Reservoir. The contaminated well supplies 1-3 New King Street, an office building located less than 1000 feet from the reservoir.
The contamination is likely coming from the airport because these compounds were once commonly used in airport firefighting foam. The finding is especially concerning because of the contaminated well’s proximity to both the Kensico Reservoir and to public water supply wells in Connecticut.
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) informed Westchester County of the finding on July 25, 2017 and recommended that the occupants of the affected building drink bottled water until the contamination is remediated. The DEC and the Department of Health demanded that the county test 14 of its existing, but abandoned, groundwater monitoring wells. These tests will help determine where the contaminants are coming from and where they are flowing. The DEC further demanded that the county provide bottled water to & install a water treatment system for the affected office building.
Westchester County agreed to the DEC’s demands on October 6, 2017. The DEC approved the county’s plan to comply with its request on November 9, 2017.
This appears to be the first time that groundwater near Westchester County Airport has been tested for PFOA & PFOS. The county’s discontinued groundwater monitoring program, which ran from 2001 to 2011, did not include tests for PFOA or PFOS.
Testing for and the regulation of perfluorinated compounds like PFOA & PFOS is a relatively new practice. New York became the first state in the nation to regulate PFOA as a hazardous substance in January 2016, followed by the regulation of PFOS in April 2016. The state then embarked on a program to assess PFOA & PFOS contamination in water supplies near facilities that used or stored the chemicals, like airports, military installations, and industrial sites. The contaminated well was discovered because of this program.
We have previously written that the airport’s groundwater monitoring program should have been continued in order to protect public health. That program was terminated in 2011 as part of former County Executive Rob Astorino’s systematic weakening of environmental protections at the airport.
We believe that Astorino’s desire to raid the airport for operating funds was a key motivation in his actions to defund environmental protections. This episode is a clear example of the consequences of his foolish, short-sighted policies. The airport must be insulated from profit motives that create incentives to weaken or ignore environmental protections.