‘Forever chemicals’ found at town landfill

DEC: ‘there are no new threats to drinking water’


After testing, Brookhaven Town officials were recently notified of a toxic plume of “forever chemicals” found in on-site wells at the Yaphank Landfill. In response, officials joined a conference call with the NYS DEC Commissioner and Region One officials to address the issue.

In 2022, Brookhaven Town participated in a statewide program testing for Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and other substances. Results from these tests, which were requested by the NYS DEC from many municipal and private landfills in New York, were conducted to formulate public policy and decide whether corrective measures are required.


In February 2023 the Department of Environmental Conservation issued strict Groundwater Guidance values for each chemical at the following thresholds:

1,4-Dioxane     = 3.5 parts per billion

PFOS               = 2.7 parts per trillion

PFOA               = 6.7 parts per trillion


PFAOA, PFOS testing done by the town were found with 1,4-dioxane in multiple groundwater monitoring wells at the landfill. Those numbers exceed the standards set by the state. Results also suggest there could be a second plume nearby. The quarterly sampling was conducted throughout 2022 and results were subject to a comprehensive review by DEC.


The DEC will now require the town to create a plan to notify the public and address the source. The town will then be required to host a public meeting to disclose its plan and how to remove the contaminants. The landfill is already expected to begin to close as of next year.

According to the DEC, there are no new threats to drinking water as there are no public water supply wells downgradient of the landfill and, starting in 2017, Suffolk County assessed private drinking water wells in the surrounding area and worked with New York State to install treatment at any locations where the state’s stringent drinking water standards were exceeded.

“DEC will continue to keep the community informed and rigorously monitor the implementation of the town’s emerging contaminant investigation, as well as the ongoing facility operation, to protect public health and the environment,” an NYSDEC spokesperson said. “Brookhaven is developing a comprehensive work plan that delineates the potential contamination and determines if there are any off-site impacts.”

According to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos this is not a “red light” situation because no private wells or public wells were at risk. 


According to town officials, they have operated the landfill in accordance with NYSDEC permit requirements and regulations. In 2022, at the request, and under the supervision of the NYSDEC, the town began targeted testing for Emerging Contaminants and radionuclides on a quarterly basis, sampling from both the landfill leachate collection system and select groundwater monitoring wells. 


PFAS are found in hundreds of consumer and household products sold across the United States and over the world – in everything from Teflon coated cooking pans, plastic drinkware, contact lenses and coated food wrappers to clothing, carpeting and building materials, fire damaged building debris. 

“Because these products are disposed in household and construction and demolition debris, their presence is expected to be found in landfills,” Christine Fetten, Brookhaven Town Commissioner of Recycling and Sustainable Materials Management said. “The town has supported groundwater testing so that residents and local governments can be made aware of where and emerging contaminants are found and how they may be addressed moving forward.”

The town suggested the readings may be from the original cells built by NY State. Also, two years ago, the Town of Brookhaven joined a lawsuit against manufacturers of PFAS because of the impact these “forever chemicals” have had on their communities.

The town has also promised to work with the Regional and Central Offices of the Department of Environmental Conservation to begin a corrective measures assessment. 

“The Town is committed to working with the DEC, engage the public of its findings and to ensure the health and safety of the community of Brookhaven,” Fetten added.


However, monitoring water quality around the Brookhaven landfill isn’t enough, Brookhaven NAACP President Georgette Grier-Key said. The landfill should be shut now, rather than waiting until 2028, she said.

“We need to get this thing closed,” said Grier-Key, who called news of the plume “cause for alarm.”

She said it’s also not enough that DEC is requiring the Town of Brookhaven to develop a plan for the landfill and then hold a hearing to inform the public. Local residents must be part of the group that develops the plan, Grier-Key said.

“We need to be at the decision table,” she said.

The problems with the landfill are just the latest example of government “ignoring the community” and of environmental problems falling disproportionately on communities of color, Grier-Key said.

The Brookhaven NAACP is also concerned about plans to build a waste transfer station near the landfill.

“We’re going to do what we do, fight for justice to take place,” she said.


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