The dark side
Originally published: February 17, 2012 12:09 PM
Updated: February 20, 2012 12:09 AM
By ADRIENNE ESPOSITO. AND ROB DESHLER
Adrienne Esposito is executive director of Citizens
Campaign for the Environment.
Rob Deshler is a Brookhaven firefighter, and both
are executive board members of the Brookhaven
Composting usually invokes images of doing something
positive for the Earth; reducing, reusing and
recycling all wrapped up together. After all, it
turns waste into a resource we need. But there's
also a dark side to this expanding industry.
not properly regulated, large-scale composting and
transfer stations are downright damaging to
surrounding communities. Potent odors, dust, truck
traffic, groundwater contamination, fires caused by
spontaneous combustion and equipment noise are
serious problems plaguing many communities.
Time and again, residents near Long Island Compost,
a business in Yaphank, have reported eye-watering
odors that prevent them from going outside or
opening windows. Blowing dust forces them to use
windshield wipers when driving.
After 11 years of documented concerns, Brookhaven
residents desperately sought relief. Last year, a
diverse group -- including the Brookhaven Fire
Department, South Country Central School District,
South Country Ambulance, the Citizens Campaign for
the Environment, and other civic organizations and
business owners -- formed the Brookhaven Community
Coalition to address public health and environmental
concerns from the Brookhaven landfill and from Long
Information obtained through the Freedom of
Information Law revealed that the compost facility
was granted a variance by the New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation to operate
without enclosing the structure. Enclosing a compost
facility within a building, which is normally
required, would put a stop to the burdens that
communities are experiencing and allow on-site
humidity to be regulated, preventing fires and
potentially saving lives of our firefighters.
The coalition presented these facts to the DEC and
requested the facility finally be required to build
an enclosure. The DEC's variance requires that the
facility not be a source of odors, dust or a
diminished quality of life. The agency agreed that
adverse conditions violated the terms in the
variance and rescinded it in October. Long Island
Compost has appealed this ruling and requested
mediation. To date, nothing has changed.
And the concerns keep mounting. Groundwater
contamination south of compost facilities in
Yaphank, Moriches and other locations are being
documented. Tests taken in 2009 by the Suffolk
County Health Department came back with high levels
of radionuclides, manganese and heavy metals.
According to health department data, radiation was
detected in one homeowner's well at four times the
drinking water standard. Manganese was detected at
31,600 parts per billion; the drinking-water
standard is 300. The health department reports that
the data point to Long Island Compost as the source.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency,
drinking water standards are set at the levels that
best protect human health. The state DEC and our
county health department are obligated to protect
the public against such exposures.
A letter written on Feb. 7 to Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley)
by Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James
Tomarken states that expanded test results south of
Long Island Compost found "contaminants consistently
detected at unusually elevated concentrations." The
bad news doesn't stop there. Heavy metals including
strontium, chromium, barium and nickel were
frequently found in groundwater samples. These
metals are known toxins and are linked to serious
No business is allowed to contaminate drinking
water. The DEC and the county health department have
been collecting ground and surface water samples
since 2009. The data clearly show we have a problem,
and it's time DEC regulations were changed to better
regulate compost and other materials processed at
The state needs to toughen regulations and require
these facilities to be enclosed, so that dust, odor,
fires and groundwater contamination are no longer
the tolerated, adverse effects of doing business.
Composting should continue, but it must be done
without contaminating our environment or threatening
the health of Long Island communities.