Testing conducted by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services has revealed contamination of both surface waters and the groundwater at the Sand Land sand mine and mulching facility on Millstone Road in Noyac, environmentalists said on Friday.
Robert DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End, and Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, joined members of the Noyac Civic Council at a press conference to announce the findings and call for governmental action to shut down the operation, which they have long opposed.
“Today we have for you, unfortunately and sadly and tragically a smoking gun,” said Ms. Esposito of the test results.
Mr. DeLuca said concerns have been raised about the potential for groundwater contamination and repeatedly brought to the attention of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “And we were ignored over and over again,” he said.
“For the past 30 years, every level of government has worked to take this particular part of the town and make it a special groundwater protection area under state law, a critical environmental area under county law and an aquifer protection overlay district under town law,” he said. “Everyone understands the value of this particular area. Essentially our reservoir lies beneath this.”
The testing was conducted last August under court order, but the county has yet to release its findings. The environmental organizations obtained the results after filing Freedom of Information Law requests for the material.
Elena Loreto, the president of the Noyac Civic Council, said her organization had fought for two years to have the groundwater tested after tests of standing water on the site had found a number of harmful chemicals. She said the latest test results prove the water at the site is contaminated. “If you don’t believe that, maybe you should go up there, take a sample and make some coffee with it,” she said.
Neither John Tintle, whose firm, Wainscott Sand and Gravel, owns and operates the Sand Land site, nor his attorney, Brian Matthews, could be reached for comment.
The test results were analyzed by Dr. Stuart Cohen of Environmental and Turf Services, Inc., a consulting firm from Wheaton, Maryland. Dr. Cohen previously served as a consultant for The Bridge golf course, was required to adopt strict protocols for the use of fertilizers and pesticides when it was approved by the town two decades ago.
Tests of the groundwater showed a spike in the level of the heavy metal manganese at 87 times the state threshold of 300 parts per billion as well as elevated levels of cobalt — as high as 107 parts per billion — that are much higher than normally found on Long Island, he said. The tests of the groundwater also revealed elevated nitrate levels — in one instance nearly double the state standard of 10 parts per million, he said.
Manganese has been tied to delayed neurological development in children and pre-Parkinson’s conditions in adults, while nitrates have been linked to blue baby syndrome. Dr. Cohen said.
Dr. Cohen said the heavy metals occur naturally but are released into the environment when put in contact with composting material.
Testing of pools of standing water at the site have also found elevated levels of lead, arsenic and manganese, Dr. Cohen added. Lead was measured at 73.5 parts per billion, where the state threshold is 25 parts per billion; arsenic levels as high as 85 parts per billion, where the standard is also 25 parts; and manganese was found at levels of 773 parts per billion, where the threshold is 300 parts.
“I think what we’ve got here is evidence of contamination of the aquifer,” he said. “I’d bet my paycheck that it is migrating off-site.” The general flow of the groundwater in the area is to the west and north, he said, suggesting that private wells in the area could also be at risk of contamination.
He recommended that the first priority should be to “stop the source of the contamination” by ending composting at the site. He said he was particularly concerned because the depth to groundwater at the site is more than 120 feet.
“In the chemical process underneath these mulching sites, we are liberating toxins that we don’t want in our drinking water,” said Mr. DeLuca. “The agency that is responsible, that needs to be held accountable here, is the State of New York, which also knew for close to a decade that this was a risk but did nothing about it.”
He called for the state to undertake comprehensive testing, order the compost and mulch removed from the site and order a halt to operations at the site. “At the end of the day, it’s a reservoir there,” he said. “It’s not a landfill.”
Ms. Esposito said the situation could get worse before it gets better. “The bad news is,” she said, “there’s a lot more contaminants yet to come and yet to hit our groundwater supply and our drinking water source.”
She called for the state to deny Sand Land’s request to expand its mining permit when it expires at the end of the year. “If they are out of sand and they are polluting the aquifer, they should be out of operation,” she said.
Mark Wooley, an aide to U.S, Representative Lee Zeldin, said the congressman would offer his support. “This is all too familiar what we are hearing today,” Mr. Wooley said, citing reports of tainted groundwater from Wainscott to Gabreski Airport.
In a release on Friday, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele said for years the community has asked the DEC to intervene only to have it turn “a blind eye” to their concerns. “The chickens have now come home to roost,” he said. “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 called for the county to make public the results of its testing within two weeks and to begin the testing of private wells in the surrounding area. He also called for the DEC to launch an investigation, stop the composting operation and reject the expansion of the sand mine. Finally, he called on Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman to inform the DEC that sand mines are not allowed under town zoning.
Last month, a DEC administrative judge ruled the town has the right under a special exception in state mining law to notify it if sand mines are legal or not in its jurisdiction. Southampton Town officials have said that while the original mine was considered a pre-existing use under existing zoning, any expansion would not be legal. Sand Land has the right to appeal that determination.
Mr. DeLuca urged residents to press their elected officials, from the local level to Governor Andrew Cuomo, to intervene. “To the extent this becomes an issue that gets to the governor’s desk, that starts to ring the bell further up the food chain” of the regulators, he said.