Westchester County Executive George Latimer has signed two executive orders aimed at safeguarding the public from PFAS chemicals. He wants to prevent the kind of drinking water contamination that has occurred in Newburgh and elsewhere in the state and country.
Standing at the Westchester County Airport in White Plains, Democratic County Executive Latimer signed the orders Wednesday. The first mandates groundwater testing at least twice a year for PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
“And the second executive order does the non-fluorinated AFFF substances should be used in lieu of those that contain PFAS,” Latimer says.
Essentially, Latimer’s order bans the use of toxic PFAS chemicals at the airport in step with federal law. AFFF stands for aqueous film forming foam, or firefighting foam. The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 directs the FAA to stop requiring the use of fluorinated AFFF. The FAA has three years to meet this requirement. John Nonna is Westchester County attorney.
“But they were used by the Air National Guard right here for firefighting training. And that resulted in contamination of the groundwater at the airport as a result… This is groundwater that’s not drunk. We test this test through wells that are not drinking wells but test wells, monitoring wells. And high concentrations of PFOA and PFOS have been found in the groundwater here at the airport, and they’ve been found at airports throughout the country where the Air National Guard conducted firefighting training using these chemicals — PFOA and PFOS.”
He says the Air National Guard left the airport in 1983. Again, Latimer.
“There have been no examples of it yet showing up in the testing of the drinking watershed,” Latimer says. “That’s what we’re trying to prevent and that’s what we’re going to try to correct by all of the remediation action that we’ll be agreeing to do under the supervision of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. As I said, there’ll be some announcement about that, perhaps within the week, and when we do, we’ll go with that.”
Democratic County Legislator Nancy Barr is proposing legislation to codify the executive orders into Westchester law.
“As soon as the federal government says it’s okay, we are going to stop using anything that has the PFAS in them,” says Barr. “And that would apply to anyone who is here at the airport, tenants, and so forth.”
In 2018, Latimer voluntarily reinstated groundwater testing for pollutants at the Westchester County Airport after the testing program was discontinued in 2011. He says the program was discontinued without approval of the Board of Legislators or notification to the public. Peter Schlactus is chair of the Westchester County Airport Advisory Board. He says reinstating testing is a way to safeguard the public.
“Today’s PFAS, 20 years ago, the same site was contaminated with, I believe it was petro carbons, and it was cleaned up by the county, but PFAS wasn’t on the radar screen. So PFAS is still here today threatening our water supply,” Schlactus says. “We don’t know what it’s going to be in five years, or 10 years or 20 years, but we need to have this testing continue, and we need it to be renewed to include whatever are seen as emerging contaminants in years to come.”
County Attorney Nonna:
“The area where the Air National Guard conducted these tests was what we call, colloquially, the burn pit,” says Nonna. “So they used to pour jet fuel. That was the original contaminant that was looked for back 20 years ago, and it was cleaned up because they’d pour the jet fuel, set it on fire and then put it out with the firefighting foam with the PFOAs in it.”
Schlactus says the airport boundary is about half a mile from the drinking water supply
“These PFAS chemicals are of concern because the airport, in particular, because the airport lies so close to the Kensico Reservoir, which is the source of most of our drinking water for the residents in this county and surrounding region.”
Latimer says his actions come from public input, such as from many local environmental groups, including the Coalition to Prevent Westchester Airport Expansion.