Suffolk County health department officials say that water samples taken from private drinking water wells in a Clearwater neighborhood have turned up no further traces of a toxic chemical that was found in another well there in January.
Since the detection of dangerous levels of a chemical solvent known as propanal, or propionaldehyde, in the well of a Kings Point Road house, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services has taken water samples from nine private wells on Kings Point Road and two on Waterhole Road for testing. The results for nine of the wells showed no contamination; results from the two others have not yet been determined.
A county official said this week that the clean tests are not conclusive but would seem to indicate that the contamination was likely from a relatively small, single source, possibly a container or drum emptied onto the ground near the well.
“None of the tests of other wells have detected any propanal,” said Paul Ponturo, chief of the county health department’s water resources division. “We’re very cautious and we don’t want to jump to any conclusions but this would suggest a pretty narrow plume of contamination.”
Water tables in the area are very shallow, less than 10 feet, and tend to flow very quickly toward the tidal waters of Hog Creek. The shallowness of the wells makes them susceptible to contamination, Mr. Ponturo said, but also pollutants tend to clear out quickly. Three follow-up tests of the contaminated well over the last month and a half have shown that the levels of propanal have been steadily declining since the first detection.
Mr. Ponturo said that he believed the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation would be investigating the possible sources of the contamination.
A spokesman for the DEC said that the agency, the state’s main environmental enforcement arm, has received no request for an investigation. The DEC’s spill response unit must receive a request for an investigation either from a resident or another public agency to commence an investigation, according to DEC spokesman Bill Fonda. Dumping a volatile chemical that is harmful to humans could be considered a criminal act, depending on the circumstances, Mr. Fonda said.
The owner of the house connected to the contaminated well, Bob Morsch, said that he never had notified the DEC, figuring the county health department would launch an investigation of the source of the chemical contamination.
Mr. Morsch’s well is about 500 feet from his house and is directly adjacent to a roadside storm drain. Mr. Ponturo said that samples of water and of the sand sediments inside the storm drain also came up negative for propanal, as did the water in another well near the storm drain.
Crews from the Suffolk County Water Authority have nearly completed the installation of public water mains to serve the houses along portions of Kings Point Road, a project undertaken after the detection of the propanal in Mr. Morsch’s well.
The East Hampton Town Board approved a $40,000 payment to the water authority as seed money for the project—almost all of which has already been recouped in connection fees paid by homeowners living in the area, according to the water authority. In all, 38 homes will be able to connect to the water mains—for about $3,400 each. So far, sixteen owners have agreed to do so.
The mains draw their water from a county controlled and monitored well more than a mile away from the site of the contamination. Mr. Morsch said his house and 10 others were connected to the new mains last week.
The contamination in the Morsch well was detected after the family complained to the county of a noxious odor and taste that developed in their tap water. After testing revealed extremely high levels of propanal, an industrial solvent used in the manufacturing of resins that is highly flammable and dangerous to humans, county health officials advised the family to stop using their well water for anything except brief showers and to open windows to ventilate the house whenever the water was running.
County efforts to track the extent of the contamination were hampered somewhat by the need to contact homeowners in the largely seasonal neighborhood. Mr. Ponturo said that, for those owners whose houses are connected to county water mains, any contamination in the groundwater may go undetected. Without complaints, the county will not continue sampling water tables in the area to determine if there is further contamination.
Mr. Morsch said this week that he is relieved to be connected to the county mains, though he added that he is disappointed that the source of the contamination was not pursued more aggressively. He praised the quick response of the county and East Hampton Town officials but said he thinks there should have been more effort to identify who may have been responsible for the apparent dumping. Despite the clean tests of the storm drain near his well, Mr. Morsch said he thinks someone must have dumped a small amount of the chemical into the drain.
“You would think people would want more answers,” Mr. Morsch said. “Like who was responsible for this. Is it going into the creek? Will there be more of it? It seems like there should have been a law enforcement end of this but no one ever did anything.”