The Group for the East End is demanding that the State Department of Environmental Conservation hold a public information meeting following reports that the state agency has no plans to clean up a toxic plume of groundwater in Speonk first detected more than a decade ago.
According to Jenn Hartnagel, a senior environmental advocate for the Group for the East End, the Bridgehampton-based nonprofit began calling for the public meeting late last month after learning that the DEC has relabeled the roughly two-mile-long plume as a class “N” site. The new designation means that no further action is necessary, including no groundwater monitoring, and that there will be no remediation. The plume had originally been given a “P” designation, which stands for potential Superfund site.
Ms. Hartnagel said this week that no information was shared with the public by the DEC before this decision was made, possibly as early as January, and that residents who live near or above the plume should have the opportunity to ask questions.
To date, the DEC has not responded to the organization’s request for a meeting, and Albany representatives of the agency—the only ones who are permitted to comment on the case, according to local DEC officials—have not returned numerous calls seeking additional information for the past month.
“The Group’s goal, at this point, is to ensure that the NYSDEC provides a community forum so that residents have the opportunity to ask questions and achieve a clear understanding of the NYSDEC’s action plan as it relates to this plume,” Ms. Hartnagel wrote in an e-mail. “There are many unanswered questions. We want to be sure public health and the environment remain a priority.”
The plume, which was first discovered in 2001 after an unidentified resident complained to officials that well water in Speonk tasted odd, was the subject of a massive 16,000-page characterization study commissioned by the DEC and conducted by Massachusetts-based environmental consulting firm Camp Dresser and McKee (CDM) in December 2011. The report, which took more than a year to complete, failed to identify a potential source for the plume—a necessary step in determining a guilty party responsible for funding any cleanup efforts.
The study indicates several potential source areas, all north of Old Country Road and south of Sunrise Highway, including land that was used as a former military target range prior to World War II—but does not specify a certain cause. The plume is believed to be approximately 120 feet below the surface north of Old Country Road, and approximately 80 feet below the surface at Montauk Highway; the contamination appears to be moving in a southwesterly direction toward Moriches Bay.
The highest concentration of contaminants—which includes tetrachloroethene, trichloroethene, trichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride and chloroform—is now near Circle Place in Speonk, which is south and west of the intersection of Old Country and Speonk-Riverhead roads, according to the report.
While the document does not recommend specific remediation efforts, it does suggest continued monitoring of the groundwater in the area. But that will not happen, according to representatives from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, an agency that has worked with the DEC to study the plume, as long as the site retains its “N” classification.
Ron Paulsen, an associate hydrogeologist with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said DEC officials have not shared with him their reason for changing the classification of the site. He added that the county still believes that further monitoring is required.
“The county’s position has been consistent,” Mr. Paulsen said. “We feel that the monitoring and tracking of private wells is still important, and if some sort of remedy needs to be put in place we would get behind that.
“At the very least,” he continued, “you have to keep track of where it is traveling to and deal with potential health issues in the future.”
Doug Feldman, the supervisor of Suffolk County’s Office of Water Resources, said this week that the contaminants in the groundwater are still dangerous because they have the potential to reach Moriches Bay. He added, however, that it is not yet known how long it will take the contaminants to reach the bay, or what state the chemicals would be in at that stage.
“I think the contaminants will be there for a long time, because groundwater moves very slowly,” Mr. Feldman said. “I don’t know when it will reach the bay, but anytime we have contamination it is a concern.”