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Homeowners apprehensive as details emerge about well-water contamination

Homeowners apprehensive as details emerge about well-water contamination

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QUEENSBURY — Wendy Mitchell bought her house on Azure Drive 21 years ago. As a single mom, she paid off the house. It was her only investment.

Now her neighbors have learned that their well water is contaminated with PFAS and 1,4-dioxane, which the state Department of Environmental Conservation believes is coming from the nearby town of Queensbury landfill.

Contamination was discovered there in January 2020, and then DEC began testing wells in the vicinity to investigate the extent of the issue and whether the situation needs a Superfund declaration and cleanup.

Mitchell’s water is getting tested Monday, five months after she asked for a test.

The DEC is sending letters to those whose houses it determines should be tested; people can’t call to simply get a test.

“I feel like crying. I spent my life paying for this house and now it’s worthless,” she said Wednesday. “Nobody’s going to buy a house that doesn’t have water.”

She had planned to someday sell her house to finance her retirement.

“I don’t have any retirement — my house is my retirement,” she said.

As she spoke, she got angry.

DEC found the contamination in January 2020, but that was not made public at the time. Three years before that, monitoring wells were dug at the landfill. It seems to her that town officials have known about the water situation for some time.

“And they never told us,” she said. “They let us keep drinking it. Here we are with all this contaminated water — it’s pissing me off.”

Town Supervisor John Strough told homeowners Monday, when they asked about the situation at a Zoom Town Board meeting, that two other nearby landfills could be to blame.

On Tuesday, in response to a request for comment, he told The Post-Star to contact DEC. On Wednesday, he did not return a call from a Post-Star reporter seeking comment.

Five neighbors have contaminated wells so far, and the state Department of Health has contracted with bottled water suppliers to deliver monthly shipments of 5-gallon jugs.

One neighbor on Wednesday was philosophical about the situation, saying, “It is what it is.”

But other neighbors are organizing to get town water.

Noel Harding found out about his contaminated well in December. He agreed to let the state test his water. After state officials got the results, a state worker called him and told him to stop drinking his water.

It’s been a surreal experience.

“They asked me how much water I wanted. I said, I don’t know — I’ve never drunk from bottles. I don’t know how much I drink.”

He’s using eight to 10 jugs a month now, for cooking and drinking. But he and his wife still shower in their well water and use it for other tasks, like washing dishes. They plan to water their garden with it. They’ve asked DEC if those activities are safe, but no one knows, he said.

“We use well water to clean the dishes. Is that a problem?” he asked. “How do you rinse your vegetables? We fill a cup (from the water cooler) and then pour it over the vegetables.”

It worries him.

“I’ve been drinking the water for 33 years,” he said.

Not every well is contaminated. Out of the first 20 wells tested, five were contaminated. But that bothers Pat Mitchell, a civil engineer. He has mapped out the groundwater and the houses, trying to understand why some wells could escape contamination. He wonders if some wells were tested at the wrong time.

“The groundwater (depth) fluctuates throughout the year,” he said.

He’s about to start asking neighbors how deep their wells are, to get a better sense of the problem, he said.

In the meantime, the state has sent a water testing company to collect samples from a few wells at a time, every few months.

“There’s no sense of urgency,” he said.

His wife Wendy said she was in despair.

“We can’t afford a lawyer,” she said.

Her husband added, “We say that, but we can’t afford to not get a lawyer.”

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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