While Report Complete, Investigation at Former Westhampton Missile Base Far From Over

The entrance to the former Boeing Michigan Aeronautics Research Center missile property, now used by various Suffolk County agencies. IndyEastEnd.com/Taylor K. Vecsey

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services submitted a report earlier this month summarizing the results of groundwater and soil sampling at the former Boeing Michigan Aeronautics Research Center missile facility in Westhampton, though the investigation is far from over.

In December, the county received word that state officials are considering the former military complex a potential inactive hazardous waste disposal site that poses a significant threat to public health or the environment, otherwise known as a “Superfund” site. “If additional investigation determines this to be true, the property will be listed on the New York State Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites,” the county said.

From 1959 until 1964, the U.S. Air Force operated a missile base as one of 10 Boeing and Michigan Aeronautical Research Center facilities protecting the East Coast from a potential Soviet air attack. Fifty-six nuclear-tipped missiles were located at the facility, according to the health department, and, after the property was decommissioned in 1969, it was turned over to Suffolk County. The county has since used the property for storage of vehicles involved in serious accidents, as a law enforcement shooting range, and as a vehicle training course for emergency responders.

Residential properties back up to the 90-acre property, which includes 13 commercial buildings and the former surface-to-air missile 58 aboveground silos, the shooting range, a power plant, several acres of vehicle storage and multiple acres of undeveloped land. The Suffolk County Police Department, the Suffolk Sheriff’s office, the county Public Works department, and various tenants use the property. Ten buildings are currently vacant.

In 2018, the Suffolk County Legislature directed the health department to inspect the property further and begin preliminary soil and groundwater testing to determine if there are any health or environmental issues that may require remediation.

The survey area around the 90-acre property. Courtesy Suffolk County Department of Health Services

Health officials installed 28 groundwater profile monitoring wells. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, were detected in samples taken from 26 of the 28 wells. PFAS are man-made chemicals, used 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. Facilities that manufacture and process PFAS, as wella as airports and military bases that use firefighting foams are some of the main sources of PFAS.

Thirteen of the samples taken from the Westhampton survey area had detections of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and/or perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) above the recently adopted New York State drinking water standards, known as maximum contaminant levels, of 10 parts per trillion (ppt). PFOA and PFOS are the most studied PFAS chemicals, and have been phased out in the United States, but are still produced internationally and can be imported into the U.S. in consumer goods, health officials say.

The highest combined concentrations of PFOS and PFOA detected from the groundwater profile monitoring wells in Westhampton was 219 ppt.

Fifty-one properties in the survey area were potentially relying on private wells, and 41 private well samples have been collected, according to the health department. Two of the private wells had detections of PFOS and/or PFOA at levels exceeding 70 ppt, and nine additional wells contained PFOS and/or PFOA at levels exceeding the new maximum containment levels of 10 ppt.

A map of the property. Courtesy Suffolk County Department of Health Services

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation installed water treatment systems and continues to monitor those two homes. Recently, additional houses that may have private wells were identified, bringing total number of private wells to 62. Bottled water has been made available at no cost to the property owners in the survey area unless there have been no detections of PFOS or PFOA.

The health department is performing another round of private well-sampling at all properties in the survey area. Health officials have asked property owners currently using private wells for drinking water to contact the the Department of Health Services at 631-852-5810 to have their water tested, even if it has been tested in the past.

In conjunction with the DEC, the health department is conducting a groundwater investigation to identify potential contamination sources, including a former drag racing strip, the Old Westhampton landfill, possible foam use related to the Pine Barrens wildfires in 1995, and local sewage treatment plants.

Further investigation is required to characterize the extent of soil contamination, officials said.

The full report,  Groundwater and Soil Investigation at the BOMARC Facility, Westhampton N.Y., can be found on the Suffolk County Department of Health Services’ website. A page has been dedicated to providing information about the ongoing investigation.

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