A request for Long Island Compost enclosure
Long Island Advance
August 25, 2011

 

BY LINDA LEUZZI
EDITOR

On the heels of radiation discoveries in test sites at the Long Island Compost/Great Gardens facility in Yaphank, Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito who heads up the Brookhaven Community Coalition is requesting the enclosure of the compost facility and the pulling of its variance by the Long Island Regional Office of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC has the means to enforce it via a regulation caveat in the Long Island Compost/Great Gardens variance, Esposito points out. Specifically, Special Condition 16 of 6 NYCTT Part 360-11.3(a)(3) notes: “…should nuisance conditions develop, the Department reserves all rights to rescind this variance and require that all operations at this facility be conducted within an enclosed structure or covered area.”

“The radiation is one big issue,” Esposito said. “The other is what I categorize as horrific and substandard living conditions to people who live nearby exposed to the odors and dust generated from the facility. There’s a simple solution – enclosure. It’s done in Delaware County, New York and in other states including California, North Carolina and Virginia.”

The Stop the Sludge Coalition, formed when biosolid odors from the town landfill sickened students and teachers at Frank P. Long Intermediate School in March morphed into the Brookhaven Community Coalition headed up by Esposito, Members discussed radiation rumors; Esposito foiled the DEC and Suffolk County Department of Health Services.  “Out comes this well data that found radiation in the drinking water,” she said. “They knew about the radiation a year and a half ago.”
The mystery, a source said, is where the radiation is coming from.

A July 14, 2010 letter from Suffolk County Department of Health summarized an investigation conducted by the department’s Bureau of Groundwater Investigation and Water Resources Management that began in December 2009, jumpstarted by the contamination of a private well at 481 Horseblock Road in Yaphank. The report cited analytical results of the water samples collected from the well along with groundwater monitoring wells that indicated a plume of severely degraded water quality in the shallow aquifer. The report cited notably elevated radiologicals, specifically gross alpha and gross beta activity at 58.4pCi/l and 305 pCi/l respectively, as well as manganese (22,300 ppm) and ammonia (20 ppm) were detected, the report said.

Immediately nearby the most severely impacted groundwater wells was a 50 to 75-foot-high pile of compost material located on the property of Great Gardens/Long Island Compost Facility at 445 Horseblock Road in Yaphank.

The Suffolk Count Department of Health Services and the New York State DEC made an onsite visit to the Great Gardens/Long Island Compost facility on May 27, 2010 to collect samples of water and soil/compost. According to the report, the southeast corner of the compost pile indicated exceptionally elevated concentrations of potassium (143 ppm), manganese (2,400 ppm) ammonia (20 ppm) and gross alpha (14.7 pCi/l) and the detection of gross alpha activity in two of the three onsite material piles. The southeast corner compost pile at Great Gardens/Long Island Compost was cited as the source of the severely contaminated water quality at levels exceeding New York State MCLs for manganese, gross alpha and gross beta.

That worries Michael Verni, a Brookhaven Fire Department member for 35 years and chairman of the board of the Brookhaven Fire Department commissioners. He wants not only the firefighters from his fire department to be tested for radiation they might have been exposed to during the July 12, 2010 fire at Great Gardens/Long Island Compost but the other 25 fire departments and responders who fought the flames that shot up from a 50-foot high pile of tree debris that roared for hours.

“I feel rotten that these guys came to help us and we didn’t know about it and I’m making sure that they’ll be tested along with our guys,” Verni told the Advance. Verni has spoken with County Executive Steve Levy and Fire Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Joe Williams about the testing.
“We fought it textbook style,” added Rob Deschler, a Brookhaven Fire Department member who was at the scene. “Had we known, this whole operation would have been totally different. We would have worn protective gear. Knowing it was radiation, we would have worn breathing apparatus. There are a lot of concerns from members of the fire department.”

Radioactive samples found, however, were not a worry to the New York State Department of Health. In a July 20, 2011 letter to Esposito, Stephen Gavitt, director of the Bureau of Environmental Radiation stated “all of these radioactive materials are naturally occurring and found at various levels in ground and surface water everywhere.” He concludes the letter, “to summarize, the radioactive materials present in the Long Island (Compost)/Great Gardens are consistent with what one would expect to find in any soil or soil-like material. This material does not pose a public health threat to anyone who uses compost for a vegetable garden including consuming the vegetables.”

Esposito’s reaction?
“We think New York State Department of Health is dangerously ignorant about Long Island,” she said. “We do not have Cesium-137, uranium and radiation naturally occurring in our soils. We looked at 55,000 drinking water samples on Long Island and there’s nothing normal about radiation.”
 

On August 18, last Thursday, Esposito met with five of the regional staff from New York State DEC in Albany including Deputy Commissioner Eugene J. Leff. “We met with them specifically on Long Island Compost and we asked for them to agree with the community and enclose the facility,” she said. “We also asked them to amend their regulations to allow the DEC to regulate compost material and land clearing debris.” New York State DEC is expected to make a decision in another week.  Results from further investigation and testing from the New York State Department of Health, the DEC and Suffolk County Department of Health on groundwater and surface water are expected around mid-September.

Gil Hanson, a geologist who heads up Stony Brook University’s Department of Geological Services, said that naturally occurring radiation is everywhere. “Some of it comes from cosmic rays and then from potassium, [gamma rays] uranium and thorium,” he said. “With the alpha rays, if you breathe or ingest it, it’s not good and that’s from the source materials. On Long Island, because our material has been withered, we probably don’t have much radiation in our surroundings.”

Long Island Compost was contacted and asked about the radiation found. A spokesperson said they would not comment about the enclosure. “Our Yaphank transfer station represents an environmentally sound answer to the region’s organic waste problems,” said Charles Vigliotti, President and CEO Long Island Compost in a statement. “As the primary recycler of organic waste, we keep hundreds of thousands of tons of landscape-related materials generated by Long Islanders out of landfills and incinerators – and save taxpayers millions of dollars in the process. We take this responsibility seriously, strive to remain in complete regulatory compliance and are proud of our record and accomplishments,” they said in a statement.

Suffolk County Fire Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Joe Williams concurred that County Executive Steve Levy spoke to Brookhaven Fire Department Commissioner Michael Verni. “He raised some concerns about his firefighters and their safety,” Williams said. “I’m having meetings with various agencies to see how we can accommodate this. We’re trying to help here but right now it’s not confirmed exactly what our plans will be.” Williams said his office would be meeting with Suffolk County Department of Health, and the county executive’s office. “We acknowledged the fact that we’d like to help out and Stony Brook University Hospital was mentioned but I will not know that until we finalize plans this week. We’ll know more the early part of next week.”

State Senator Lee Zeldin (R,C-Shirley) and Assemblyman Dean Murray (R, C-East Patchogue) forwarded a letter to New York State DEC Commissioner Joe Martens urging the review and revision of Part 360 of the New York State Solid Waste Regulations to allow better control of compost facilities. As for Brookhaven Town, “We take this matter very seriously and are in close communication with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, who has jurisdiction over this site,” said spokesperson Jack Krieger, who emphasized the establishment of a landfill-liason committee that meets with the Brookhaven Community Coalition members on a regular basis to discuss issues related to the landfill and nearby composting facility.

“I would definitely support enclosure of the facility,” added Councilwoman Connie Kepert, whose office has dealt with complaints stemming from the Yaphank facility for years.