Residents living close to the long-closed town landfill fear for their health and property values after potentially-carcinogenic chemicals were found in their drinking water wells.
Ninety-four homes in the High Woods area of Saugerties with private wells close to the capped Saugerties landfill have been offered free daily 1.5-gallon stipends of bottled water from the state Department of Health, some since April 2019, after the state Department of Environmental Conservation found levels of so called “forever chemicals” — PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) — as well as the “emerging contaminant” 1,4-dioxane in area groundwater above the amount being considered safe for human consumption.
The DEC suspects that the culprit may be Saugerties’ capped town landfill, which stopped receiving waste in 1996 and was closed in 1997. The Saugerties Town Board, which has tested local groundwater annually since 2002, approved an “existing conditions” study at their February meeting.
“It’s really distressing, especially when you’re confronted with these lab reports that don’t make a lot of sense,” said Jenny Bowskill, who has used bottled water for drinking and cooking since August 2019. “You feel quite helpless, you feel, ‘What I can do?’ Everything that I’ve investigated, shower filters, water filters, nothing seems to take 1,4-dioxane out. You feel quite powerless.”
According to DEC spokesperson Jomo Miller, 35 homeowners have opted to forego testing on their drinking water or have not responded to the agency’s repeated attempts to contact them. Miller said the state will continue to offer the services to these homeowners through repeated letters to their property and door tags.
“I advise anyone who has been approached by the Department of Health to take [the testing and err] on the side of precaution,” said Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. “No one knows the whole scope of the challenge and it may not be very serious, but it may be very serious. We don’t know yet. If they’ve been offered testing or bottled water, they should do it.”
According to the EPA, 1,4-dioxane — not to be confused with the far more dangerous dioxin — was used as a stabilizer in industrial degreasers, increasing the shelf life of the product by preventing chlorine molecules in the substance from breaking down. Trace amounts can also be found in shampoos and other cleaning products. PFOS’s and PFOA’s are used in products due to their water-resistant and non-stick capacities, and can be found in firefighting foams, cleaning products, waxes, pesticides and a host of other products. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has deemed all three of these substances as “possibly carcinogenic.” States, including New York, are setting health-based limits on the amount of these contaminants these are allowable in drinking water sources.
The health-based limit, or “Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL)” of combined PFOS and PFOA in drinking water sources has been set 0.07 parts per billion in both California and Connecticut.
New York has proposed 0.01 parts per billion for PFOS/PFOA. For 1,4-dioxane, the New York proposed MCL is 1.0 parts per billion. The DOH is giving bottled water to anyone who tests for any of the three substances in their private well, regardless of whether it exceeds one of the proposed limits.
“Being a new property owner in the area, I was incredibly disappointed to find that our well contained these contaminants, potentially impacting both my family’s health and our property values,” said Tracy Bouvette, a John Joy Road resident who’s well tested at 1.25 parts per billion, that was one of the higher detected amounts of 1,4-dioxane in the area. “Although this is an obviously difficult circumstance, it was comforting to learn that both the state and the town are committing resources to help move toward restoring safe drinking water to those folks that have been affected. In the meantime, the DOH bottled water program is working very well to act as a temporary band aid to reduce impacts on local homeowners.”
According to the DEC, the agency will be collecting samples from test wells at the landfill, plus additional soil, groundwater, surface water and sediment samples within the next few months. Once completed and analyzed, the DEC will work with the state health department and the town to figure out what they have to do resolve identified environmental and human health concerns, as well as plan and carry out remediation. Restoration of safe drinking water is expected to be part of that remediation.
Fixing the problem could take years. In the meantime, those living in the High Woods area of Saugerties in the vicinity of John Joy Road, Artist’s Lane and Sawood Lane concerned about the quality of their drinking water can contact the DEC at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Maureen Schuck at the state health department at (518) 402-7860 to get their drinking water well tested free of charge.