Congressman Lawler Secures $2 Million Grant to Ease Somers Water Woes

March 13, 2024

Halston Media News
By Carol Reif

SOMERS, N.Y. – Somers is excited to be able to tap into grants that will allow it to resolve some of its drinking water issues.

The first big bucket of money is coming from the state and the second from the federal government.

Several years ago, tests mandated by aggressive new state health regulations detected perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) above maximum allowable contaminant levels in wells supplying the Town House, aka The Elephant Hotel, in the heart of the town’s Business-Historic Preservation District.

The two are known as “forever chemicals” because they embed themselves in the environment and bioaccumulate, or build up over time, in the bodies of humans and other living creatures.

Somers was issued a violation for the PFOS and PFOA by the Westchester County Health Department and told it needed to come up with a remediation plan ASAP.

Among the long-term options it weighed were installing an on-site filtration system, finding an alternate water source, and/or forming a water district that included adjacent properties and hooking into the system at Heritage Hills, a sprawling condo development that has five wells and its own treatment facilities.

The on-site filtration idea apparently dried up due to the lack of space on the Town House’s property, which is located at the confluence of Route 100 and 202.

After engaging its engineering consultants, Woodard & Curran, to determine if there was a feasible regional solution, the town started putting out feelers to see if folks in the business district were interested in forming a water district.

Reaction from property owners reportedly was positive.

Lifelines Thrown

Albany rode to the town’s rescue this February with $1.7 million in funding from the Water Infrastructure Improvement (WIIA) program.

The WIIA program helps municipalities fund critical wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects. It aims to reduce water pollution and safeguard supplies from emerging contaminants and toxic chemicals.

But wait, there’s more.

Just last week, U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler, a Republican who represents New York’s 17th Congressional District, announced that his office had secured $2 million grant for the town through the federal Community Project Funding program.

The money will be used, he said, “to facilitate primary drinking water regulations by constructing a water main in the core of the Somers community” and to “address severe risks to public health by addressing PFAS MCL exceedances in the Business-Historic Preservation District.”

Lawler noted that a total of $35.9 million for Somers’s and 16 other projects in his district had been included in a “bipartisan appropriations package” passed in the House on Wednesday, March 6.

“I am thrilled to have secured almost $36 million in funding for communities across New York’s 17th District,” Lawler said, noting that the projects range from” providing clean drinking water for tens of thousands of residents to repairing aging infrastructure and dams to expanding pedestrian safety and accessibility.”

This infusion of cash will “significantly improve the quality of life of residents across the Hudson Valley.”

Lawler also said that the $35.9 million in funding is “more than quadruple” the amount of funding brought back by the 17th District’s previous representative, Democrat Mondaire Jones.

Seeking to regain his old seat, Jones will face off against Lawler in the fall if he wins the Democratic primary in June against former Bedford Supervisor MaryAnn Carr.

Early Days

Somers Supervisor Rob Scorrano echoed Lawler’s feelings about the grants at the Town Board’s Thursday, March 7 work session.

“This is positive, exciting news,” he said, adding: “We just need to get moving in the direction we need to get moving in.”

Now that the town’s “declared” its funding source, among the many necessary next steps could be approaching the owners and operators of Heritage Hills’s water system, Veolia North America, to see about access. Veolia merged with the system’s previous overseers, Suez, in 2022.

If it’s able to work out a deal with Veolia, the town will then have to go through the process of forming a water district and get various approvals from agencies such as the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Then there’s the actual construction of a water main from the new source up to the Town House. Property owners along the way also will be given the option to hook up, Scorrano said.

Water Over the Dam

In 2021, when the PFOA and PFOS violations were levied, then town Supervisor Rick Morrissey said he was “comfortable” that no employee’s or visitor’s health had been compromised because the building had already been using bottled water due to high sodium and chloride levels.

He agreed, however, that the situation was something that needed addressing.

Other tests around that time found coliform bacteria, but that was a problem that was eliminated by disinfecting the plumbing system and making other changes.

For PFOS and PFOA, the fix isn’t as easy.

New York’s Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS is 10 parts per trillion (ppt).

The levels found in the historic landmark’s wells in the spring of 2021 were 11.5 ppt for PFOA and 39.4 ppt for PFOS.

Forever With Us

Around since the 1960s, PFOS and PFOA have been used in a variety of consumer and industrial products, such as stain-resistant clothing and furniture, nonstick pans, food packaging, and firefighting foam.

Chronic exposure can lead to cancer and while not an immediate threat like sodium and chloride isn’t something to be taken lightly.

Woodard & Curran, the town’s engineering consultants, had noted that if the Town House’s water had PFOS and PFOA in it, then it’s likely that other wells that access the same aquifer might also contain them.

The state doesn’t require homeowners to test their wells for PFOS, PFOA, or 1,4-Dioxane, which is a synthetic chemical and likely carcinogen that municipalities must also test for.

The good news is that levels of 1,4-Dioxane in the Town House water were undetectable, according to the town’s water department. (The states Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for that substance is 1 part per billion (ppb).)

Situation Not Unique

In 2021, PFOS and PFOA were both found in the water used by the Pequenakonck Elementary School in nearby North Salem and the Meadow Pond Elementary School in Lewisboro.

Only one of the contaminants – PFOA – was detected at a level that triggered an immediate “Do Not Drink” advisory at both schools. Bottled water had to be provided for drinking and for use in the school cafeteria. It was safe for washing hands, flushing toilets, and cleaning purposes.

Last April, the North Salem school district got the thumbs-up from the Westchester health folks to use the new water filtration system at the Middle/High school campus.

Its water is now passed through 12 granular activated carbon and greensand filters that remove PFOA and PFOS and minerals such as iron and manganese.

PQ was to undergo similar improvements in its water filtration system.

According to North Salem schools Superintendent Dr. Duncan Wilson there is a small proposition included in the district’s preliminary 2024-2025 budget to raise $713,000 to complete the PQ water filtration project. The district has the necessary approvals and bids and is ready to start it this summer, he said.

The original project, which was to remove the minerals, “grew considerably” in the past two to three years due to the new health requirements for PFAS and PFOA, Wilson added.

Who Is Veolia?

Veolia operates 8,500 water and wastewater facilities around the world and serves more than 550 communities in North America.

PFOS and PFOA were found in all of the five wells in 2021 used by Heritage Hills but they were all way below the MCL of 10 ppt. The highest recorded was 7.01 ppt and the lowest, 1.80 ppt.

No violations were found and the likely source of the contamination was, according to a report describing the quality of Heritage Hills’ drinking water, “released into the environment from widespread use in commercial and industrial applications.”

Veolia’s drilled wells are all located off Route 202. They are fenced in and capped in order to protect them.

It should be noted that all drinking water, included the bottled stuff, “may be reasonably expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants,” Veolia’s water quality report said.

The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that water poses a health risk, it added.

None of the five wells were found to be in violation for inorganic contaminants such as nitrate, barium; lead or copper; disinfectants or disinfection by products, secondary contaminants such as chloride, manganese, or sodium; radiological contaminants such as radium and uranium; or PFOS/PFOA.

Good to Know

For information about contaminants and potential health effects, call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 or the Westchester County Health Department at 914-813-5000, or by viewing the EPA drinking water website, and the New York state Health Department website,