Report Finds Ground Water Contamination at Local Sand Mine

Construction debris being unloaded at the Sand Land sand mine and mulching facility on Millstone Road in Noyac in March.

Elevated levels of manganese, iron, thallium, sodium, ammonia and other contaminants were found in groundwater at Sand Land in Noyac during a Suffolk County Department of Health Services investigation, the county announced Monday.

According to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDOHS) report, vegetative waste management activities at Sand Land — a sand mining and mulching operation on Millstone Road — “have had significant adverse impacts to groundwater” at the site, and concentrations of contaminants found in off-site locations were found at lower levels with some still exceeding acceptable standards.

The report goes on to say testing of private wells in the larger region is ongoing and so far has not showed impacts to drinking water, but acknowledges that “direction of groundwater flow is an important factor in determining the potential for community impacts. … The investigation concluded that groundwater flow is complex across the large, 50-acre site.”

The investigation showed, among other conclusions about groundwater flow, a downward gradient that indicates the property is in a “deep recharge area.” Recharge areas, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, form naturally to “replenish groundwater stored in aquifers for beneficial purposes.”

The SCDOHS report mirrors concerns raised by three local civic groups that obtained the agency’s raw testing data via Freedom of Information requests and released it in March ahead of the formal announcement by the county. The county says its findings are consistent with studies conducted at other vegetative waste management facilities.

Monday’s report “proves everything that we were saying at the press conference in March,” Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council, said Tuesday. “The Town of Southampton and Department of Environmental Conservation officials should act before this becomes a Superfund site. This is in our backyard, our territory. It’s here.”

Levels of iron in groundwater at Sand Land were found to be more than 200 times acceptable drinking water standards, and levels of manganese exceeded standards by more than 100 times.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ingestion of about 10 to 50 milligrams of iron, a naturally occurring metal, is necessary as a daily nutrient. However, overexposure to iron can be fatal at levels of 200 to 250 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Manganese is also a naturally occurring metal, used in the manufacture of iron and steel alloys and in batteries, glass and fireworks. The WHO has cited a 2002 study that said some manganese, from 1.8 to 2.3 milligrams per day for adults, is considered necessary in one’s diet because it is a component of some enzymes. Beyond that, according to the WHO, long-term exposure to high levels of manganese via ingestion were attributed to changes in appetite; hyperplasia, which is the enlargement of the organs due to overgrowth of their cells; and a reduction in the production of hemoglobin, a blood protein responsible for transporting oxygen.

Water sampling at Sand Land began under court order after Wainscott Sand and Gravel, which operates the Sand Land property, initially refused to provide access for testing.

Monday’s report from the SCDOH called for a private well survey in the area “to assess possible impacts to private drinking water wells” — similar to what Southampton Town is doing in East Quogue and elsewhere near Francis Gabreski Airport, and much like what East Hampton is going through in Wainscott near its airport.

The report’s recommendations also say state and local agencies with jurisdiction over Sand Land “should ensure that activities are in compliance with all applicable codes, ordinances and permit requirements and that the activities at the site do not further impact groundwater quality.” If mulching is indeed allowed to continue at the site, the report says, “mechanisms” should be put in place to prevent it from further harming groundwater as well as surface waters. In particular, according to the SCDOHS, Sand Land will have to comply with a New York State Environmental Conservation Law that became effective this year requiring groundwater testing and impermeable liners at facilities that accept land clearing debris and composting, although guidelines for the implementation of that law are still being written by the state.

“This thorough report describes a groundwater investigation that is the culmination of years of effort by advocates and officials who have tenaciously fought for the protection of our invaluable aquifer, the sole source of drinking water on Long Island and a critical resource for current and future residents,” Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming said in a statement. “The report demonstrates definitively that the ongoing activities at this site are polluting our drinking water now and for future generations. The conclusions of the report must be met with swift action. … It is therefore imperative that the activity cease unless mitigation measures to effectively prevent groundwater impacts are identified and implemented.”

Sand Land management could not be reached for comment this week.

Southampton Town in 2013 started slapping zoning code violations on Sand Land, saying it was expanding its uses in ways that violated its certificate of occupancy. Sand Land appealed in Southampton Town Justice Court, where a town justice agreed that only the state had authority to monitor mining operations. But a state appeals court in 2015 upheld the Southampton Town ZBA ruling that would have limited Sand Land’s certificate of occupancy.

Separately, the town sought a temporary restraining order to shut the operation down, but the state Supreme Court denied that request. Sand Land has applied to renew its state sand mining permit, which expires later this year.

Previously, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman had said he planned to send a letter to state authorities opposing what he considered to be a new permit, although the letter had been put on hold pending an appeal Sand Land filed with a state court over citations for zoning code violations it received from the town. In April, the Appellate Term of the New York State Supreme Court upheld Southampton’s right to enforce zoning code violations.