Pollution Prompts New Round Of Studies, Water Testing In Speonk

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Suffolk County and Southampton Town officials are pushing for more groundwater testing and studies in Speonk after additional contamination was discovered in the hamlet earlier this year.

According to officials, much is still unknown about the new contamination, which appears to be centered below Dock Road in the hamlet, and more tests are needed to determine its depth, scope and chemical content. It is unclear at this time if the contamination is new or an extension of a nearly two-mile-long stretch of contamination, dubbed the Speonk Solvent Plume, that was discovered in 2001 and dates back at least half a century, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation. That contamination includes a mix of chemicals and metal degreasers.

Now, town and county officials are working to notify residents who might be affected by the contamination, and late last month sent letters to 160 residents on the Remsenburg-Speonk peninsula alerting them about the newfound pollution.

But even with an aggressive campaign from town and county officials to publicize the problem, several residents living near the newly found contamination said they were still unaware of the pollution.

“If we still had well water, I would be more concerned,” said Dock Road resident Bob Canolas, who has lived on the same street for 24 years and, as of last week, still had not been notified about the contamination. “But we are on town water. We also drink a lot of bottled water.”

Others in the area interviewed over the past few weeks echoed those sentiments, noting that they have been on public water for at least the past several years.

Even though the new contamination was announced in March, it has been the focus of the DEC for several years. Margaret Zbrozek, another Dock Road resident who has lived in her home since 1955, said the DEC tested her well water two years ago, and recommended that she switch over to town water, which she did.

Ms. Zbrozek said her well tested positive for several contaminants also found in the Speonk Solvent Plume, though she has not thought much about the pollution since she switched over to public water.

“That water was bad,” she said. “They came and tested it and said it was not safe. There is a water line running all the way up this street, we all have it now.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said this week that all remaining homeowners still on private wells have been notified about the contamination.

“Anyone who hasn’t gotten a letter yet is not within the boundaries of concern, or they might be on public water already,” she said. “That said, if they have concerns, they can always call the Suffolk County Water Authority to ask for their water to be tested.”

The Speonk Solvent Plume was discovered in 2001 after an unidentified resident complained that the well water in Speonk tasted odd. The pollution—the source of which has not been determined and might never be—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.

The second area of contamination was announced earlier this year after it was revealed to the members of a Speonk Solvent Plume working group—a new board that includes representatives from the DEC, local politicians, civic group leaders and hydrogeologists who want the DEC to clean up the contamination.

Charsleissa King, a press representative for the DEC, said that, to date, the DEC has only had to provide alternative drinking water to one resident as a result of the new contamination. She also noted that it remains unclear if the new contamination is a second plume or part of the original one.

“The second plume may be unrelated to the original plume,” she said. “However, it appears to have originated in the same general area that was investigated by the Speonk plume study.”

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said his main concern is to make sure that everyone is on town water. At the same time, changes need to be made to ensure that the plume is eventually remediated and not left to fester in the ground.

“We are working to get additional staff hired and assigned to fighting that plume,” he said. “The county has shifted personnel to make sure there are people available for this cause.”

Last month, Mr. Schneiderman also sent a letter to DEC officials in Albany pushing to have the plume reclassified to a Class 2 site. Currently, it is labeled as a Class 4 closed site, which allows for monitoring of the area without remediation. The site earned that classification earlier this year when the DEC reversed a previous decision to take no further action at the site and to stop monitoring the pollution.

Mr. Schneiderman now wants to have the pollution classified as either a Class 2 or Class 2A site, which would “recognize the threat to private well users and make resources available to mitigate the impacts,” according to a letter he sent to DEC officials and dated May 10.

The county, Mr. Schneiderman said, is actively monitoring the plume. He added that 90 test wells have been installed in the area, and a new round of testing by the Suffolk County Water Authority is scheduled to begin this week. He added that free well testing is available to all residents due to the threat. He also said more information can be found about the contamination on the town website, www.southamptontownny.gov.

According to Carrie Gallagher, the chief sustainability officer for the SCWA, the primary focus of her agency is to map out the second area of concern and notify those who fall within its boundaries.

“We have been working to contact potentially impacted private well owners in the vicinity to let them know to be on alert that they should get their well tested,” Ms. Gallagher said. “If it has been impacted, then the Health Department has to explain the different options. They can either hook up to public water or install water treatments.”

Charsleissa King, a press representative for the DEC, said the state agency is continuing to monitor the plume and is considering Mr. Schneiderman’s request. She added that monitoring the pollution is the DEC’s main priority right now.

“The Division of Environmental Remediation is aware of the second plume” she said. “Suffolk County continues to monitor drinking water wells in the area, and DEC will continue to respond and provide alternate water supplies as needed.”

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