Potentially harmful contaminants have been found in the Glen Head well’s water, New York American Water said in a Jan. 30 news release.
Of the utility’s 55 wells across the state, four were found to contain the contaminants 1,4-dioxane and perfluorinated compounds, or PFAS, such as perfluorooctanoic acid — PFOA — or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid — PFOS — in concentrations greater than the state’s proposed maximum levels. There currently are no such limits.
Samplings of the Glen Head well showed a concentration of PFOS compounds that exceeded the proposed state limit. According to the state Department of Health, officials are proposing a PFOS limit of 10 parts per trillion. NYAW External Affairs Manager Lee Mueller said the company acted immediately to start treating the water by the time the regulations are passed, and perhaps before then, if it can.
“Water quality is at the foundation of everything that we do,” Mueller said, “and we’re acting proactively, in advance of these proposed regulations being finalized, to ensure the health and safety of our customers.”
Treatment of PFOS compounds requires granular activated carbon vessels — large cylinders filled with carbon that strip out contaminants as water flows through them. While it can take some water suppliers six to nine months to acquire the vessels, Mueller said that NYAW received them immediately, borrowing them from sister utility New Jersey American Water. She said the company has already begun the permitting process with the Town of Oyster Bay to install them.
Mueller said that NYAW was in litigation in federal court with several manufacturing companies that produce the chemicals to recover the company’s treatment costs. If the lawsuits succeed, she said, ratepayers would not have to shoulder the cost of treatment.
Dr. Sarah Meyland, director of the New York Institute of Technology’s Center for Water Resources Management, said it is critical that water suppliers act to remove the contaminants. Long-term exposure to PFOS can result in a variety of health issues, she said, such as increases in serum cholesterol and triglycerides, altered immune response, as well as effects on reproductive and developmental systems.
“In general,” Meyland said, “they should express their desire that the installation of the treatment technology should move as quickly as possible.”
Meyland said PFOS has been proven to cause cancer in rats, which leads researchers to believe it could be a carcinogen to humans as well.
If residents are concerned about their exposure to PFOS, Meyland said, a blood test can reveal if they have ingested a dangerous amount. She also said that the most observable negative impact of PFOS exposure is in the thyroid. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it can cause hypothyroidism, preventing thyroids from producing enough hormones to help the body function normally.
State Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, said that contaminants in the water supply are a Long Island-wide issue, as the Island’s drinking water is the most polluted in New York. Gaughran, the former chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority, said the new regulations are very much needed, forcing suppliers to provide safe and clean drinking water. If they do not, they could face serious consequences, he said.
“They have to comply with the law,” Gaughran said. “They cannot deliver any water that doesn’t meet the new standards. They have to make every action possible to make sure they are supplying safe water.”
Gaughran has long advocated for the establishment of a public water entity for the North Shore Water District, which charges the highest water rates on Long Island. He noted that enforcement of standards would be easier under a public water authority, because it would have to report directly to the state.
Mueller said that communication with customers is important in helping NYAW move forward. The company, she said, will regularly reach out to customers via email and mail, and ratepayers can create online accounts on NYAW’s website to improve communication.
Communication with affected residents is paramount, Meyland said, adding that water suppliers need to regularly reach out to customers and let them know where they are in the treatment process, offering schedules and timelines. People may hesitate to drink their tap water, she said, and providing updates at least every six months would keep residents up to date on the safety of their water.
On Jan. 29, NYAW announced to customers living within 300 feet of the well that representatives would hold a public meeting at the Gold Coast Library the next day to speak on the zoning process required to install treatment equipment at the Glen Head well. The meeting was canceled a few hours after the announcement, however, because of space issues at the library. Many residents from throughout the water district, not just those who were immediately notified, planned to attend.
Library Director Mike Morea said the room where the meeting was to take place can only hold 50 people, and library staff was concerned that turnout would be overwhelming. Mueller said that NYAW is looking for a bigger venue to hold its meeting in the near future.