City mulls water conservation measures amid well closures

Wells closed ‘out of an abundance of caution’


Glen Cove officials are considering how to deal with a potential water shortage this summer in light of the recent closures of two of the city’s wells due to the presence of a contaminant.

With the two wells at the Duck Pond well site shut down after elevated levels of a refrigerant known as Freon-22 were found there last November, the city expects to draw water from only three of its five pumping stations. “Three wells will get us through the summer with maybe an adjoining supplier,” John Ingram, Glen Cove’s water operator, told the Herald-Gazette. “We’ve done it in the past.”

But if any of the three functional wells has to be taken out of commission, Ingram said, having a plan in place to regulate the city’s demand for water could go a long way toward minimizing the impact of the reduced capacity.

City spokeswoman Lisa Travatello said that the conservation plan had already been outlined. “It would be enforcing our existing plan,” she said, “and then evaluating, with the [county] Department of Health and the [city] Water Department, any additional measures we would need.”

Travatello noted that some residents were concerned about the safety of the water supply in light of the well closings. “The water supply in the Glen Cove community is, and has been, 100 percent safe,” she said. “The water from the wells in question never made it out into the water supply. They were shut down before that.”

Ingram emphasized that the wells were closed “out of an abundance of caution … We noticed [in November] that even though our samples were still under the threshold,” he said, referring to the 5-micrograms-per-liter limit set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the levels were higher than the city’s water officials were comfortable with. They began running weekly, rather than quarterly tests, and found that the Freon-22 levels fluctuated widely from week to week.

“The first sampling we did in November was at a 3.5 [micrograms per liter],” Ingram added. In the weeks since then, he said, “We’ve gone to a high of 6.5 and a low of less than 0.5.” As soon as the wells showed levels of Freon-22 above the 5-microgram limit, they were immediately shut off.

Since the weekly testing began in November, only two weeks’ worth of samples showed levels above the threshold.

Ingram said that the EPA’s limits are extremely low, and based on preventing even the smallest health risk. He said that someone would have to drink four liters of water containing the threshold amount of Freon 22 every day for 30 years to increase their risk of cancer by 1 in 100 million.

Tom Cardile, deputy director of Glen Cove’s Department of Public Works, said that the city’s top priority is residents’ safety. “We spend quite a bit of money testing to make sure the water is safe,” Cardile said, estimating the bill at “thousands of dollars a month.”

As for where the refrigerant is coming from, Ingram said, “We don’t know. Everything that we understand about it is that it’s coming from geothermal wells [that building owners dig] for heating and cooling their buildings.”

The Village of Roslyn faced a similar problem in 2014, but the CDC was unable to identify the source of the Freon-22. In a letter to the community, the Roslyn Water District said that the state Department of Environmental Conservation had “exhausted all reasonable possibilities in attempting to identify a source of contamination and has made a decision to close their investigation,” citing “the complexities of groundwater” as a reason why further attempts to locate the source would be “futile.” Ingram said this was likely the case with Glen Cove’s water as well.

Instead of focusing on the source, he added, he wants to focus on the solution. The existing carbon filters don’t remove Freon-22 from the supply, but a treatment called air-stripping can. The city was already looking into an air stripper for another well on Seaman Road, and, Ingram said, the engineers working on that project would be asked to design and install strippers for the other two wells.