Report provides new information on flow direction near sand mine and vegetative waste site.
Suffolk County, NY - July 2, 2018 - Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken today announced that the Department of Health Services has completed an investigation into groundwater conditions in the vicinity of Sand Land, a sand mining and vegetative organic waste management site located in Noyack.
“Since its initial efforts to assess potential impacts, beginning in 2015, the department has focused significant effort and resources on this site in order to address the concerns of the community,” said Dr. Tomarken. “We have fulfilled our obligations under the legislature’s resolution and stand ready to work with government agencies and other stakeholders to address concerns.”
The groundwater investigation had been directed by resolution number 245-2015 of the Suffolk County Legislature in 2015 but was delayed when the property owner refused to provide access, forcing the department to obtain a court order to move forward. The legislation calling for the investigation was authored by then-legislator for the second Legislative district, Jay Schneiderman. Legislator Bridget Fleming, who was elected to represent the second Legislative District in November, 2015 has been following its progress closely.
Legislator Fleming said, “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. 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. The evidence shows significant negative groundwater impacts from the waste management activities occurring at the site, including manganese exceeding drinking water standards by almost 100 times and iron by over 200 times, as well as elevated levels of contaminants such as thallium, sodium, nitrate, ammonia and gross alpha, despite the significant depth to groundwater at the site. It is therefore imperative that the activity cease unless mitigation measures to effectively prevent groundwater impacts are identified and implemented. I am grateful to County Executive Steve Bellone, Commissioner Tomarken, and the entire SCDHS staff for their tenacious and highly professional pursuit of an accurate assessment of the groundwater impacts of the activities at the Sand Land site. I look forward to continuing to work with officials at all levels of government to ensure that this unacceptable pollution of our drinking water source comes to an end.”
The investigation found elevated concentrations of some metals in groundwater monitoring wells, consistent with past studies conducted by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services at vegetative organic waste management facilities. In particular:
The vegetative waste management activities on the Sand Land site have had significant adverse impacts to groundwater. Groundwater concentrations of manganese significantly exceeded drinking water and groundwater standards by almost 100 times in on-site groundwater monitoring wells.
Concentrations in off-site groundwater monitoring wells were found at lower concentrations but also exceeded standards in some wells.
Testing of private wells in the area is ongoing but water quality results to date indicate that all of the private wells sampled in the current survey have met all drinking water standards, and have not indicated any water quality impacts related to vegetative organic waste management activities.
In response to these findings, the report contains recommendations, including:
Completion of the private well survey in the area by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to assess possible impacts to private drinking water wells.
Responsible state and local agencies with jurisdiction over activities conducted at the facility 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. Should responsible regulatory agencies determine that vegetative organic waste management activities are allowed to occur at this site, there should be requirements to ensure that mechanisms are in place to prevent operating practices from further detrimentally impacting groundwater and surface water quality.
New York State Environmental Conservation Law section 15-0517 became effective on January 1, 2018 and requires groundwater testing and impermeable liners for land clearing debris and composting facilities; NYSDEC is in the process of establishing regulations. Since significant groundwater impacts have been identified, the requirements of the new law should be implemented at the earliest practicable time.
The Sand Land groundwater investigation is the latest in a series of actions taken by the department to assess the potential for impacts to groundwater related to the management of vegetative wastes comprising tree debris, leaves and grass clippings, on and near sites where those materials are recycled into mulch and compost products. A 2016 investigation studied water quality at 11 current or former vegetative organic waste management sites throughout the county and found elevated concentrations of some metals, primarily manganese, in monitoring wells and some private wells downgradient of vegetative organic waste facilities.
The direction of groundwater flow is an important factor in determining the potential for community impacts from solid waste activities. The SCDHS 2016 Interim Sand Land report identified unique conditions in the vicinity of the site that made it difficult to establish the direction of groundwater flow and recommended the installation of groundwater monitoring wells on the site to help resolve the uncertainty. The investigation just completed was designed in part for that purpose.
The investigation concluded that groundwater flow is complex across the large 50 acre site. On the eastern portion of the site, the groundwater flows to the west/northwest. On the western portion of the site the groundwater flow is also westerly but with a slight southwesterly component. There also appeared to be a downward gradient on-site indicating that the property was located in a deep recharge area. Off-site to the west, groundwater flows more northwesterly.