The scientist's soft spoken and matter of fact manner belied the nature of the news. Last Friday, Dr. Stuart Cohen of Environmental and Turf Services, a consulting firm in Maryland, articulated eye-popping findings: the Sand Land mine has contaminated the aquifer.
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Levels of heavy metals and toxins that exceed federal drinking water standards — in some cases by orders of magnitude — were found in court-ordered test samples of both the surface and groundwater at the 50-acre site in Noyac. Manganese, which has been tied to delayed neurological development in children and pre-Parkinson's conditions in adults, was found at 87 times the threshold allowed in New York State. Linked to "blue baby syndrome," nitrates were found at double the state standard. Elevated levels of lead and arsenic and cobalt were also discovered.
To reach the aquifer, the contaminants had to travel over 100 feet through the soil. The county recently studied legitimate and permitted vegetative organic waste management facilities and found contamination at sites where the depth to groundwater was far less than it is at Sand Land.
But Sand Land is not a legitimate vegetative organic waste management facility. It's a sand mine. In 2016, its operator sought permission to expand because it was out of sand. Environmental groups and civic organizations suspected the mine morphed into a dumpsite. Test results revealed Friday validate that suspicion.
The Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) and the Group for the East End (GEE) have been working eight years to get someone to take action, Adrienne Esposito, CCE executive director explained during a press conference held at the Old Noyac Schoolhouse. With the results from test well samples, she said, "We sadly and tragically have a smoking gun . . . this is severe degradation of our groundwater that must stop."
"What we've got here is evidence of contamination of the aquifer," Dr. Cohen imparted. "I'd bet my paycheck that it's migrating off site."
GEE president Bob DeLuca alleged Sand Land has been accepting waste for more than a decade and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation "has known." Environmental organizations and community groups like the Noyac Civic Council repeatedly asked the state to look into the impact of a waste processing operation at the site. "We were ignored over and over again . . . The DEC essentially did nothing," he said.
The agency refused to acknowledge the possibility of illegal dumping. "We saw mulch being dumped and buried," Esposito informed. The DEC said it couldn't be happening because Sand Land doesn't have a permit for such activities. It was a case, Esposito said, of the DEC saying 'Don't believe your lying eyes.'
Cohen said he's never been involved in a case "where a government agency turned aside like this. It's unusual for government to turn a blind eye like this."
The State of New York needs to be held accountable, DeLuca said. Additional sampling should get underway to determine the extent of the contamination. The findings revealed Friday provide a "snapshot" of the contamination, he said. Offending matter should be removed and Sand Land should "cease and desist" the operation.
Sand Land's mining permit expires at the end of this year. "If they're out of sand and polluting the aquifer, the DEC needs to deny the permit," Esposito said, emphasizing, "The DEC needs to hold our drinking water to the highest priority and that means Sand Land closes."
"The chickens have now come home to roost," Assemblyman Fred Thiele said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "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 continued. By ignoring the voice of the public and repeatedly rubber-stamping permits for Sand Land, "The State DEC has utterly failed to protect the public," he charged.
All levels of government must act and must act now, the assemblyman demanded. He compiled a list of actions that must be taken immediately:
1. We cannot wait until April for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to release its report on the contamination. The testing was done months ago and the SCDHS has had the raw data for weeks. Their report must be made public in the next two weeks.
2. The SCDHS must also begin to survey for contamination by testing all drinking wells that are down gradient of the contamination.
3. The State DEC must launch a full environmental investigation to determine the full extent of contamination at this location.
4. The State DEC must take action to stop the processing of vegetative waste and other industrial activities until the extent of the contamination is known.
5. The State DEC must reject any expansion of the sand mine at this location.
6. The Southampton Town Supervisor must exercise his authority under State Law and inform the State DEC that mining is a prohibited activity under the Southampton Zoning Code.
Reached for comment, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he has informed the DEC that mining is not permitted in in Southampton. "The town has taken the lead on this," he said. "There have been multiple court actions. We had oral arguments just this past Thursday on one aspect. I have already notified the DEC that mining is a prohibited activity in Southampton."
In fact, Schneiderman said he launched the ground water investigation in this area when he was a county legislator. "I passed a bill directing the health department to conduct this investigation," he reported.
At the press conference Friday, Elena Loretto, president of the Noyac Civic Council informed that in 1961 her predecessor, Mrs. William Koch, expressed concerns about the concept of a mining operation just up the hill from the Old Noyac Schoolhouse. She worried the operation would result in noise, odors, and pollution. "We were way ahead of the curve," Loretto said.
The attorney representing Sand Land did not return a request for comment made Friday.