Testing, testing everywhere, to keep it safe to drink

Water sign: Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito dives in at Friday's clean-water roundtable at SUNY Farmingdale.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Albany is diving deeper into Long Island’s groundwater plumes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday directed the state Department of Environmental Conservation to expedite containment of groundwater plumes in Nassau County, starting with an “immediate engineering investigation,” according to the governor’s office.

The plumes were created through years of industrial solvents leaking into the groundwater at a Bethpage site once jointly occupied by the U.S. Navy and defense contractor Northrop Grumman.

Howard Zucker: “Aggressive action” on water quality.

The marching orders follow Cuomo’s call for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate 1,4-dioxane, a common industrial compound frequently surfacing in New York water supplies. And they come on the same day SUNY Farmingdale hosted a roundtable discussion on Long Island water-quality issues, organized by Cuomo’s office and featuring a who’s-who of regional lawmakers, scholars and environmentalists.

Among those in attendance at Friday’s brainstorming session – which focused on “recent threats to local groundwater resources,” according to Cuomo’s office, including trichloroethylene and 1,4-dioxane – were state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, along with several Long Island-based state representatives, county officials, town supervisors and water-district directors.

The meeting also attracted a healthy assortment of regional activists, including Stan Carey – who in addition to serving as Massapequa Water District superintendent also chairs the Long Island Water Conference – and Adrienne Esposito, executive director of eco-watchdog Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

According to Cuomo’s directives, the investigation will “assess expedited cleanup options, including full containment of the plumes, in order to ensure the contamination does not threaten additional drinking-water wells.”

The governor has also mandated that those responsible for the toxic plumes – which lurk like clouds in Long Island’s underground aquifers and tend to move around – be held accountable. Seggos said Friday his department would “use all our legal authorities to hold Northrop Grumman and the Navy accountable and ensure they expeditiously advance and pay for the necessary remediation.”

“The new engineering investigation will provide critical insights and actionable recommendations to ensure the cleanup is faster and more protective for the surrounding community,” Seggos said.

Targeting “a more robust and detailed assessment of remedial options,” the new investigation will also “build on past findings and comments,” according to the governor’s office, including earlier studies that “lacked critical details on a number of outstanding issues, including the reuse or recharge of any extracted and treated water.”

Specifically, the DEC probe will include field surveys and engineering analyses that identify and evaluate disposal and reuse options, along with new groundwater-migration modeling that tracks contamination “hotspots” and the potential dislocating effects of different treatment scenarios.

The investigation will also entail deeper examinations of possible impacts on nearby marine environments, including Great South Bay, and aquifer-pumping tests to determine the number, locations and depths of necessary “extraction wells,” according to Cuomo’s office.

Basil Seggos: DEC will make polluters pay.

Meanwhile, the DEC will now require all state Superfund sites to test for 1,4-dioxane – and based on those tests “will take appropriate enforcement action … to reduce 1,4-dioxane at its source” – while mandating certain Long Island laundromats to sample surrounding groundwater for 1,4-dioxane as a state-permitting qualification.

The stepped-up exploration of Long Island’s underground plumes is part of his administration’s ongoing efforts to hold polluters accountable and channel federal EPA Superfund resources toward New York’s groundwater-contamination issues, Cuomo said Friday.

“Protecting New York’s drinking water is critical and is a top priority for this state,” the governor noted. “This new engineering investigation will advance an aggressive and expedited cleanup to ensure Long Islanders have access to clean water resources.”

The SUNY Farmingdale meeting and new Island aquifer investigation come about a month after Cuomo made clean water a cornerstone of his annual agenda, including the first tranches of a five-year, $2 billion statewide clean water-infrastructure initiative in his FY2018 Executive Budget.

They also come about a week after the New York State Environmental Facilities Corp. announced it was floating roughly $8 million in grants and low-interest loans to separate wastewater-remediation projects in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

According to Cuomo’s office, DEC contractors will immediately begin “synthesizing current information and reports” on the Long Island plumes to create a list of “necessary field work,” which is slated to begin in the spring. The conservation department expects to release preliminary findings for public review by the end of 2017.

“Access to clean drinking water is one of the defining issues of our time,” Zucker said Friday. “The state will continue its commitment to addressing 1,4-dioxane and other emerging contaminants with robust funding, innovative technologies and aggressive action by the Water Quality Rapid Response Team.”


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