The State Department of Environmental Conservation has reversed course and agreed to reclassify a two-mile-long plume of toxic groundwater in Speonk, a move that allows the state agency to continue monitoring the pollution, though there are still no plans for remediation at this time.
By changing the plume’s classification from a Class “N” site, which requires no action, to Class “C,” which involves continued monitoring, DEC officials have committed to testing the plume on a regular basis in order to keep monitoring the levels of the chemicals in the groundwater. It also allows the agency to keep tabs on any associated vapor exposure.
While it does not require the DEC to clean up the site, the change opens the door for additional reclassifications in the future—specifically, to a Class 2 inactive hazardous waste site, which allows for remediation—if officials determine that the contamination levels get too high and threaten the health of people, according to Jim Harrington, the director of the DEC’s Remedial Bureau.
“Our final decision is, we are going to reclassify this as a Class ‘C’ site, which will allow us to continue to evaluate the plume,” Mr. Harrington told the estimated 120 people, including local residents, environmentalists and elected officials, who attended the meeting held at the Suffolk County Community College’s eastern campus last Wednesday night. “We will be happy to participate in a working group with the residents, and we will continue to provide an alternate water supply for public wells that are being impacted.”
He made the announcement during a public meeting that was called after state agency officials revealed that they had no plans to continue monitoring the plume or remediate the contamination after a responsible source could not be determined. Local residents and environmentalists demanded the meeting after learning that the DEC originally had no plans for the plume, and Southampton Town officials have stated that they would consider legal action against the state if it insisted on walking away from the problem.
According to DEC press representative Charsleissa King, her agency is now working on a game plan for the continued monitoring of the plume, including installing a new system of monitoring wells that will be used to collect groundwater samples. She said the DEC also plans to complete a private well study to identify all remaining properties in the area that are still connected to well water, and create guidelines for the vapor sampling.
Additionally, the agency will develop a strategy in case the dynamics of the plume change in any way that individuals or new areas are threatened by the contamination, Ms. King said.
Mr. Harrington also announced last week that the DEC will be creating a group that includes town officials and will help develop future plans for monitoring and possibly remediating the plume that was discovered in 2001 after an unidentified resident complained that the well water in Speonk tasted odd. The group is set to meet for the first time next week; a date was not immediately finalized.
The pollution—the source of which has not been determined and is believed to be about a half-century old—was the subject of a massive 16,000-page characterization study commissioned by the DEC and conducted by the Massachusetts-based environmental consulting firm Camp Dresser and McKee. According to the study, which Mr. Harrington described as the largest he has ever seen, the plume’s primary contaminants are perchloroethylene, trichloroethene, trichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride and chloroform; several of the chemicals are metal degreasers while chloroform is primarily used to make other chemicals.
DEC officials explained during the meeting that because the chemicals are so deep in the groundwater, there is a layer of uncontaminated water and soil above it that the chemicals cannot penetrate. They also noted that due to the barrier, vapor intrusion is not an issue at this time. They have agreed, however, to continue to monitor the situation.
They also explained that the only way humans could be put in danger is if they drink or shower with the contaminated water, though they later noted that most local residents have already been connected with public water as a precaution.
While pleased with its decision to reclassify the plume, which opens the door for possible remediation in the future, most residents in attendance last week said they want the DEC to do more about the contamination. One of their primary concerns was that the pollution may already be contaminating local waterways and will eventually reach Moriches Bay.