(March 2018… Sag Harbor, New York) On Friday, March 9 at 10:30 a.m., Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Stuart Cohen, PhD, Group for the East End, Noyac Civic Council, along with other environmentalists and community leaders at the Old Noyac Schoolhouse to release long awaited groundwater test results on the controversial Sand Land property, which is operated by Wainscott Sand and Gravel in Bridgehampton. After years of community concern and a two-year battle to avoid investigation, the Suffolk County Health Department took action and installed a series of test wells. The first round of data is in, and the results show that the aquifer has been contaminated.
It has been nearly a decade since the potential risks of significant groundwater contamination from open vegetative waste processing facilities have been confirmed by Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHS), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), and New York Department of State (NYDOS). Last August, the State Supreme Court issued a ruling to allow the SCDHS to install these groundwater test wells on the mine’s property. Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Group for the East End filed a Freedom of Information Request to gain access to the water testing data.
President of Noyac Civic Council, Elena Loretto, spoke of Sand Land’s beginning, and initial concerns from the civic organization when the sand mine was founded. “There were concerns that this would contribute noise, odors, things flying in the air, and pollution, even back in 1961,” she said. “We were way ahead of the curve. The Noyac Civic Council has remained very active in looking at water issues.”
Water quality expert Stuart Cohen of Environmental and Turf Service, Inc. has a PhD in Physical Organic Chemistry from George Washington University. As a certified ground water professional, he presented the findings from the test wells. “What we have here is evidence of contamination of the aquifer, and I would bet that it is migrating off site,” he said. “Groundwater elevations are high here, and it is going to move off site where there are private wells down gradient. I believe we have a situation where Suffolk County Department of Health Services should look at the impact on private and public wells down gradient. I also recommend to stop the source of the contamination. It’s an unregulated activity, the composting operation and the dumping. I’m concerned there is more pollution migrating through the subsurface.”
The primary contaminants found in these investigations have been heavy metals including manganese, arsenic, chromium and lead. In some cases, these metals, notably manganese, have been found in concentrations well over 100 times the drinking water standard. Testing has also confirmed high nitrate levels and radionuclides well in excess of expected background levels for Long Island. These results are particularly concerning in areas designated as Special Groundwater Protection Areas or Aquifer Protection Districts, due to their importance for groundwater recharge, source water and drinking water protection.
Data from the test wells sampled shows that the aquifer has been contaminated by many of the same heavy metals and constituent pollutants found at other vegetative waste processing sites across Suffolk County. Despite the fact that the water table lies nearly 100 feet below the current surface of the mine, which is approximately 60 feet lower than the natural grade of the area, some of these contaminants significantly exceed drinking water levels and it is likely that more contamination is making its way down through the soil.
Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca said, “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. 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.”
“Sand Land asked the DEC two years ago to expand their sand mining operation because they admitted in writing that they are out of sand,” said Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito. “So, we have a sand mine operating with no sand, yet, they still operate. What exactly are they doing? Now we know. They are dumping waste, mulch, and other hazardous materials in our special groundwater protection area. We’ve asked the DEC to deny the expansion, and now we need the town to do that as well. Sand Land’s permit ends December 2018. We need the DEC to deny a renewal of that permit.”
History of Efforts to Investigate Sand Land
Despite its longstanding participation in the groundwater testing that has confirmed contaminants from these industrial processing operations, NYSDEC has consistently failed to address, or even acknowledge, these groundwater risks even when given the opportunity through the review of related permits, such as those related to sand mining operations where such vegetative waste processing facilities have become common. In its 2013 review of Sand Land’s mining permit renewal, a permit that was granted, NYSDEC ignored substantive groundwater contamination concerns raised by the Town of Southampton, Suffolk County Health Department, recognized environmental organizations and local civic organizations.
In response to public and local government outrage over the State’s failure to fully consider and potentially address likely vegetative waste contamination during its review of the Sand Land mine permit, the Suffolk County Legislature eventually passed legislation directing SCDHS to conduct groundwater testing at the Sand Land site.
Over the course of the next two years, the owners of the mine fought to keep SCDHS from installing the mandated well resulting in a legal battle that went on until August of 2017, when Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Joseph Santorelli strongly affirmed the County’s right to test the property for contamination, and ordered that the investigation proceed. SCDHS conducted well installation and testing in October and November of 2017, and the results of the testing became available in early 2018.
Contact: Rachel Bosworth
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