EPA warning of 'forever chemicals' renews concerns about drinking water on Long Island

EPA wants to lower threshold to nearly 0 for all companies still using the chemicals
MANORVILLE, Long Island (WABC) -- A warning from the Environmental Protection Agency that two nonstick and stain-resistant compounds are more dangerous than previously thought is renewing concerns about drinking water in several Long Island communities.

The nonbinding health advisories from the EPA set health risk thresholds for PFOA and PFOS to near zero, replacing 2016 guidelines that had set them at 70 parts per trillion.

The chemicals are found in products including cardboard packaging, carpets and firefighting foam, and the EPA says they pose health risks even at levels so low they cannot currently be detected.

"Look at that white creamy stuff coming outa my water," Manorville resident Ronald Martz said.

He's sick of it, and he believes many of his neighbors have gotten sick from it. Bill Ebert, who also lives here on River Road in Manorville, agrees.

"A lot of us have had cancer, including me, in this neighborhood," he said. "And it's something that should be dealt with right away."

The EPA's red flag may finally help these Suffolk County residents who just want clean drinking water. The agency cited incredibly low amounts, .02 to .004 parts per trillion, as the threshold for lifetime exposure.

While the new guidance is not regulatory, advocates say it sends a strong message to the state, which has a legal threshold much higher at 10 parts per trillion.

In Manorville, studies in 2020 have already shown levels in private wells higher than what's considered safe.

"The Suffolk County Health Department tested 128 homes in the area, and they did find at the time, over 20% of the homes had these toxic chemicals in their drinking water wells," said Adrienne Esposito, with the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

The homes that were tested sit closest to the former Grumman fuel depot in Calverton.

"That plume is verified to have PFOS AND PFOA chemicals in it," Esposito said.

But what is the solution? Change the source for these homes to the public water supply.

"Half of those houses, the ones that fall within the town Brookhaven town, they will get put onto the Suffolk County water supply, a process that could begin as early as the fall. But for the houses in Manorville, it's been a bit trickier.

Manorville sits within the town of Riverhead, which has its own water supply, so jurisdictional issues with the county remain.

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Meanwhile, residents are playing the waiting game.

"Right now, we can't drink the water," Martz said. "Everybody in this area is on bottled water."

Now, they're wondering how many more years it will take.

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