Toxic PFOS & PFOA found in groundwater by Kensico Reservoir

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.


August 18, 2017 letter from NY Department of Environmental Conservation to Westchester County

October 6, 2017 response from Westchester County

November 9, 2017 approval from NY Department of Environmental Conservation

4 thoughts on “Toxic PFOS & PFOA found in groundwater by Kensico Reservoir

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  1. I worked with the Sierra club to get these wells installed. Imagine by horror when I found out that the monitoring had been discontinued, even though elevated levels of VOC’s were found and reported over the years. Our local water company, Westchester Joint Waterworks, told me that they don’t test for any VOC’s nor PFOAs. How convenient to stick their heads in the sand while we drink up our human carcinogens.

    Shameful! The blame goes all around- Astorino, the DEC, the airport management company and the local water companies. They didn’t look because they knew how bad it would be if/when these chemicals are found in our drinking water.

  2. This is especially concerning for people whose water comes from Westchester Joint Water Works. Not only should the County check its wells, but Westchester Joint should immediately test for PFOAs. The water intake from the Kensico reservoir to WJWW is extremely close to airport property. WJWW supplies water to almost 60,000 people in lower Westchester. This is no small issue, and shows why constant water-quality monitoring and vigilant environmental protection of the Kensico Reservoir is essential for the residents of Westchester County.

  3. I spoke to WJWW’s manager Paul Kutzy. He is aware of the issue and believes the state may issue a requirement this year for public water supplies to test for PFOA and PFOS. Nevertheless, WJWW may be proactive and test for the contaminants ahead of the requirement. He does not expect to find harmful levels of the contaminant in WJWW’s source given that the PFOA & PFOS were found in groundwater and not surface water.

    1. I did a little research on PFOA AND PFOS. There has been public water contamination at Stewart Airport at the site of the Air National Guard Site. Newburgh has offered blood tests to residents to determine the levels of these chemicals in the blood of residents.

      Before the Air National Guard was located at Stewart, it was at Westchester County Airport. It moved in the 1980s, but PFOA AND PFOS can be persistent in the environment. Perhaps it could be in the sediments in the Kensico, perhaps not. However, these chemicals are dangerous, and the potential of their migration into drinking water is serious. If the levels in drinking water are low, then there is nothing to do. If the levels are elevated, then action needs to be taken.
      I believe that although the risk to the drinking water in Kensico and WJWW may be low, it is essential to be SURE that there is no risk to citizens/customers. Hence, another reason why leasing the airport to a private entity whose primary concern is profit and an ultimate sale to another for-profit entity, presents a risk to quality of life and health of the surrounding communities.

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