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Suffolk County Department of Health Services Completes Soil and Groundwater Investigation at the Former Westhampton BOMARC Missile Base

Additional Testing and Private Well Survey Underway

  • 23 September 2020
  • Number of views: 1525
  • Categories: Health

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHS) has completed a report summarizing the results of groundwater and soil sampling at the former BOMARC (Boeing Michigan Aeronautics Research Center) missile facility in Westhampton, Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott announced today.

The 90-acre BOMARC property is located on Old Country Road in Westhampton. The site was operated as a missile base by the U.S Air Force, as one of ten Boeing and Michigan Aeronautical Research Center facilities protecting the east coast from a potential Soviet air attack from 1959 until it was decommissioned in 1964. Fifty-six nuclear-tipped missiles were located at this facility. After decommissioning, the property was turned over to Suffolk County. Suffolk County has since utilized the property for storage of automobiles involved in serious accidents, as a law enforcement shooting range, and as a vehicle training course for emergency responders, among other uses.

In 2018, the Suffolk County Legislature enacted Resolution 1065-2018, directing the Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHS) to inspect the BOMARC property and initiate preliminary soil and groundwater testing at the site to determine if there are any health or environmental issues that may require remediation. In accordance with the resolution, the SCDHS collected numerous soil and groundwater samples at the BOMARC property. 

SCDHS installed 28 groundwater profile monitoring wells.  Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were detected in samples taken from 26 of the 28 profile wells.  Thirteen of the samples  had detections of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and/or perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) above the recently adopted New York State drinking water standards (maximum contaminant levels, MCLs) of 10 parts per trillion (ppt). The highest combined concentrations of PFOS and PFOA detected was 219 ppt. It should be noted that there are several sites in the area that may also be potential sources of PFAS groundwater contamination. 

The community public water supply in this area currently meets all existing drinking water standards, including the recently adopted MCLs for PFOS, PFOA and 1,4-dioxane. The Suffolk County Water Authority’s Old Country Road public water supply wellfield is located immediately south of the former BOMARC property.  PFOS was detected in that wellfield in 2014 at 48 ppt, which is below the health advisory level (HAL) of 70 ppt, established in May 2016 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. That public water supply wellfield has treatment to remove PFOS and is routinely tested on a quarterly basis. 

Due to a detection of PFAS in a private well, SCDHS began a survey and investigation of private wells in Westhampton in 2017.  Fifty-one properties were identified in the survey area as potentially relying on private wells, and 41 private well samples have been collected by SCDHS.  Two of the private wells had detections of PFOS and/or PFOA at levels exceeding the HAL of 70 ppt, and nine additional wells contained PFOS and/or PFOA at levels exceeding the new MCLs of 10 ppt enacted recently by New York State. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has installed water treatment systems and continues to monitor the two homes that had detections above the HAL. Recently, additional residences that may have private wells were identified, bringing the total number of private wells to 62 wells serving 63 properties.

Bottled water is available at no cost to properties on private wells in the survey area unless results indicate there are no detections of PFOS or PFOA in these wells. Residents may call 631-852-4820 to arrange for a delivery.

In coordination with NYSDEC, the SCDHS is performing another round of private well sampling at all properties identified in the survey area.  Property owners within the survey area who are currently using private wells for drinking water should contact the SCDHS at 631-852-5810 to have their water tested, even if it has been tested in the past.

SCDHS, in collaboration with the NYSDEC, is also conducting a groundwater investigation to characterize other potential sources of PFAS in the area, including a former drag racing strip, the Old Westhampton Landfill, possible foam use related to the Pine Barrens Wildfires of 1995, and local sewage treatment plants.

In addition to the groundwater investigation, the SCDHS performed a limited site evaluation of subsurface leaching structures, also known as underground injection control systems (UICs) and surface soils at the BOMARC property focusing on areas of potential concern.  Four UIC structures had concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) and/or metals that exceeded Suffolk County Sanitary Code standards, indicating that remediation will be required.  Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), for which there are no Suffolk County standards, exceeded the NYSDEC soil cleanup objective (SCO) for protection of groundwater in five UICs, three of which had also exceeded Suffolk County Sanitary Code standards for the aforementioned chemicals.

Based on the data from this investigation, four UIC systems will require remediation under Suffolk County Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 9-95. However, due to PCB contamination in many of the UICs, Suffolk County will work with the NYSDEC in developing appropriate remedial action for the UICs. 

Surface soil samples were compared to NYSDEC soil clean-up objectives (SCOs), codified at 6NYCRR Part 375.  SCOs are developed for various use scenarios, such as residential, commercial, industrial protection of groundwater or unrestricted.  As an initial baseline evaluation, SCDHS compared the surface soil data to Unrestricted SCOs. Twelve surface soil samples exceeded NYSDEC Unrestricted SCOs. Six of those samples also exceeded Commercial or Protection of Groundwater SCOs.  It is important to note that these surface soil samples were targeted to areas of suspected contamination. Of these six samples exceeding Commercial or Protection of Groundwater SCOs, one was ash from law enforcement fireworks burn box, three were soil from the shooting range, one was stained soil adjacent to an aboveground tank, and one was soil adjacent to a concrete pad suspected of previous hazardous material storage.  Elevated concentrations of contaminants in these samples could be expected.

Further onsite investigation will be required to characterize the extent of soil contamination.

Four of 10 surface soil samples exceeded the PCB Residential Use SCO. Due to this unusual occurrence of PCBs in surface soil, a second round of PCB surface soil sampling was performed at 67 locations throughout the site, including some of the same locations sampled during the initial round.  In this second round of sampling, only one out of the 67 samples exceeded the residential SCO.  Additional sampling will be conducted.

Suffolk County health officials have consulted with state health officials regarding the PCB levels in the soil, current uses, and precautions being taken at the site. No immediate action is indicated at this time. The county has also consulted with the New York State Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH) for review and further guidance regarding any issues related to the ongoing use of the site.

Due to the findings of the SCDHS investigation, the NYSDEC informed Suffolk County on December 5, 2019, that the former BOMARC Missile Base is now considered a potential inactive hazardous waste disposal site. If additional investigation determines that hazardous waste disposed on the property poses a significant threat to public health or the environment, the property will be listed on the New York State Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites, more commonly known as a New York State ‘Superfund’ site.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used worldwide since the 1950s in such products as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, and products that resist grease, water, and oil. PFAS manufacturing and processing facilities, airports, and military installations that use firefighting foams are some of the main sources of PFAS. PFOA and PFOS, the most studied PFAS chemicals, have been voluntarily phased out by industry in the United States, though they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the U.S. in consumer goods. PFAS are also persistent in the environment.

PCBs are chemicals that were used in industrial products such as electrical insulators, capacitors, electric appliances, hydraulic and microscope oils from the 1920s, until banned in 1979 amid concerns that they could have unintended impacts on human and environmental health. PCBs enter the air, water, and soil during manufacturing and use. Wastes from the manufacturing process that contained PCBs were often placed in dump-sites or landfills.  Because PCBs bind strongly to soil, their detection in groundwater is very rare.

For information about NYSDEC’s Superfund Sites, click here.

For information about US EPA Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS in Drinking Water, click here. 

Residents with general questions about health effects of PFAS are advised to call the New York State Department of Health (800) 458-1158 or (518) 402-7860 (Monday - Friday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.).

Residents who are unsure if they are served by public water may call the Suffolk County Water Authority at 631-698-9500.

Residents with private wells who have questions about private well water in Suffolk County or who wish to have their wells tested may contact the SCDHS Office of Water Resources at 631-852-5810. 

A webpage has been developed to provide information about the BOMARC investigation.  The BOMARC Soil and Groundwater Investigation Report is posted on this website.  To view the webpage and for updates, click here.

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