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Source: The Southampton Press

UPDATE: State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. Weighs In On Sand Land Contamination

BY KATE RIGA

Posted: March 12, 2018
Originally Published: March 12, 2018

UPDATE: Monday, 11:15 a.m.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. added his voice to the chorus through a press release released Friday evening. He called for six points of action: the release of the Suffolk County's official testing report in the next two weeks, the immediate testing of all wells "down gradient" from the contamination site, a comprehensive survey of the Sand Land site by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to determine the scope of the problem, the halting of all composting and mulching operations at Sand Land, a decision to curtail any Sand Land expansion by the DEC and a letter from Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman establishing that mining is illegal under local zoning laws. "Years of regulatory neglect have yielded a stew of contamination that would more likely be associated with an open dump than a legitimate business," he wrote. "The State DEC has utterly failed to protect the public."

UPDATE: Friday, 1:50 p.m.

At a press conference Friday, local environmentalists and a Maryland groundwater testing specialist presented the findings from Suffolk County Department of Health’s testing of the water at the Sand Land property, painting a picture of significant contamination.

Two environmentalist groups—Group for the East End and Citizens Campaign for the Environment—requested the testing results under the Freedom of Information Law after a judge ordered the wells be installed last summer. The Suffolk County Department of Health has not yet released its own report.

Stuart Cohen Ph.D., of CGWP Environmental & Turf Services, Inc. in Maryland, presented the department’s findings. Multiple chemicals were found in either the aquifer, which provides the East End’s water supply, or surface level water, which exceeded the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) health advisory levels. The testing was done on four pools of water on the site, and the groundwater beneath them.

In the groundwater, multiple spikes of nitrate-nitrogen were identified that exceeded the DEC’s standard of 10 parts per million, or ppm. Another chemical, manganese, was detected in massive quantities, both the average and the maximum spikes soaring high above the DEC’s advised 300 part per billion, or ppb.

Testing of the surface-level water yielded similarly grim results. Lead, arsenic and manganese were all found in amounts significantly surpassing the DEC’s standards.

All of these chemicals have known or suspected deleterious effects on human health when taken in at high concentrations. Excessive levels of nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water can cause methemoglobinemia, a disease that primarily affects infants. Less well established are the health effects from the presence of manganese in drinking water. According to the World Health Organization, the effects of inhaling manganese dust are well-documented and include irreversible neurological damage; no conclusive survey has yet established that orally intaking the chemical has the same effect. Lead is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a "probable human carcinogen" and has been linked to higher risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Arsenic is a carcinogen and when taken in at high enough concentrations, can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer.

Though it is not yet clear what will be done with the results once the county releases its official report, the dozens gathered at the press conference were unified in their goal. “Sand Land is out of sand, so what are they doing?” asked Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “They are dumping waste, mulch and other hazardous material.

“The DEC needs to hold protecting our drinking water as the highest priority and shut down Sand Land,” she continued, to raucous applause from the crowd.


Sand Land’s attorney, Brian Matthews of Matthews, Kirst & Cooley, PLLC did not immediately return a call for comment.

Dr. Cohen added that other steps must be taken as well to curb the spread of the existing chemicals. “This is evidence that there is contamination in the aquifer and I’d bet my paycheck that it’s migrating off site,” he said. “The Suffolk County Department of Health Services should look into the impact on the surrounding public and private wells.”

Grace Kelly-McGovern, the Suffolk County Department of Health public relations director, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Those in the crowd were eager to know what they could do to further these goals. “This is a grassroots endeavor,” said Bob DeLuca, president and CEO of the Group for the East End. “We need to make enough noise with enough data to back it up.”

“Write letters to your local editors, call the governor’s office,” added Ms. Esposito. “The more you speak up and out, that voice will be carried to Albany.”

Mark Woolley, an aide to U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin present in his stead, added that he would recommend to the congressman that he personally intervene with the DEC to move the process along.

“This issue requires our serious attention,” he said.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Contaminated water has been found in Suffolk County test wells installed on the grounds of the Sand Land mining operation in Noyac, according to local environmentalists.

“These results would be concerning in any test well sample, but to see this level of contamination in a designated water supply protection area is deeply disturbing,” Bob DeLuca, president and CEO of the Group for the East End, wrote in an email Thursday. “Sadly, these data clearly validate the contamination concerns that we, local officials, and many other members of the public raised for years in questioning the state’s lax oversight of this facility.”

Mr. DeLuca declined to release any further details, noting that he is participating a press conference Friday with State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and other community leaders at the Old Noyac Schoolhouse in Sag Harbor at 10:30 a.m., where, he said, all of the data will be released.

Both Mr. DeLuca’s organization and another local group, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Law to obtain the testing results.

Grace Kelly-McGovern, the Suffolk County Department of Health public relations director, declined to release any information, repeating her statement from mid-February that the county will release a comprehensive report on its findings in three to four weeks.

The results are a product of an order from the State Supreme Court in August to install the testing wells on the mine’s property. The contamination could have come from the periods when the mine, operated by Wainscott Sand and Gravel, served as a solid waste processing center. If the wells are contaminated, that could be an indicator that the groundwater has seeped into the aquifer, polluting the East End’s drinking supply.

Evidence of contamination would be another blow to the sand mine on the heels of a judge’s recent decision to give Southampton Town the authority to curtail Sand Land’s desired expansion. The town holds that the proposed expansion, which would enlarge the operation by 4.9 acres across and 40 more feet below it for excavation, is against local zoning laws.

However, at that time, Sand Land’s attorney, Brian Matthews of Matthews, Kirst & Cooley, PLLC in East Hampton immediately fired off a letter requesting to “renew and reargue” the case.

Mr. Matthews could not be reached for comment.

Even if the letter fails, the Sand Land team could still appeal the decision, spelling out a long future for the multiple legal entanglements ensnaring the mine.