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Source: Newsday

Sandy delays health, environment studies


Posted: January 20, 2013
Originally Published: January 13, 2013

State agencies have failed to release a final decision about cleaning up toxic groundwater in Bethpage and a related cancer study, despite plans to provide the findings last year.

Also overdue are a plan to manage pesticide use on Long Island and an investigation into groundwater contamination near a Yaphank composting plant.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is responsible for the reports, investigations and decisions, except for the cancer study, which falls under the Department of Health.

Superstorm Sandy is partly responsible for the delays, officials said.

"Since the storm hit, DEC's primary focus in the area has been to perform recovery operations and assist local governments with their efforts, such as issuing permits for the reconstruction of Ocean Parkway and the traffic circle at Robert Moses State Park, both devastated by Sandy," agency spokeswoman Lisa King said in a statement.

Whether related to Sandy or not, the delays trouble some activists and elected officials.

"Clearly the DEC doesn't consider Long Island public health and environment a priority," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "There's no other way to interpret this."

Toxic plume

In late May, the DEC released its proposed plan to clean up the plume of toxic chemicals under Bethpage Community Park, a former Navy and Northrop Grumman dumping site. In the fall, state officials said the final decision would be issued by the end of 2012.

The state agency's goal is to release the final plan in March, spokeswoman Lisa King said.

The area is contaminated from years of legally dumped solvents and other chemicals from Navy and Grumman aviation and aerospace projects. The chemicals are moving south in the groundwater toward public drinking water wells that serve 250,000 Nassau County residents.

County Executive Edward Mangano, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the Bethpage Water District and others have said the state's preliminary cleanup plan relied too much on treating contamination once it reached the wells rather than removing the chemicals.

"Given the impact of Sandy, a delay is understandable, but the final product still must maximize remediation of the spill and not just rely on post-contamination wellhead treatment," Schumer said in a statement.

Water districts want the state to drill new wells to remove the chemicals before the plume reaches drinking water wells. But Massapequa Water District Commissioner John Caruso said, "I think the momentum was lost by us in Sandy."

Cancer study

A state Department of Health investigation of cancer rates and soil vapor data near Navy and Grumman sites in Bethpage was to be released in the fall.

Health Department spokesman Peter Constantakes could not provide a new estimate for when the report would be released. But Mangano is meeting with state health officials Monday to review preliminary results of the study, his spokesman Brian Nevin said in a statement.

"We haven't seen it [the study] and we're interested, obviously," state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) said.

Mangano and Marcellino requested the study in 2009 after the Navy revealed it had found cancer-causing chemicals at "elevated concentrations" in air samples around homes near its Bethpage plant. Further tests that year revealed contaminated air in homes along 11th and 10th streets and Sycamore and Maple avenues in Bethpage.

The study is reviewing cancer cases dating to 1976 and analyzing the Navy's air testing data.

Pesticide management

A Long Island Pesticide Use Management plan has been in the works for more than a decade.

Clean water advocates said the plan is needed to protect aquifers that are the sole water supply for Long Island. Sandy soils mean that while water can seep down into the aquifers, so, too can contaminants.

The DEC's Lisa King said the agency could release a draft pesticide management plan as soon as next month.

"We can't continue to push off this report," Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said. "Clearly the use of pesticides here on Long Island . . . is impacting our groundwater and our bays, and without information as to exactly what's happening, it's impossible for us as policymakers to make informed decisions."

About 5.2 million pounds and 397,000 gallons of pesticides were applied on lawns, farms, golf courses and other properties in Nassau and Suffolk counties during commercial operations in 2005. That amounts to 29.56 percent of the total pounds of dry pesticide used in the state and 14 percent of the total gallons of liquid applications, according to a 2011 draft of the management plan.

Groundwater contamination

An investigation of groundwater contamination discovered in 2009 south of a mulching facility in Yaphank also is to be released this year, officials said. Private wells showed unusually high levels of manganese and radioactivity.

That report required information from the county that the DEC just recently received, spokeswoman Lisa King said.