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Card: No ‘plumes’ at Recycling Center, but concerns about composting

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Commissioner of Public Works Jay Card Jr.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Commissioner of Public Works Jay Card Jr.

Rest easy, Shelter Island residents. There are no “plumes” — specific trails of contaminated material — from the Town Recycling Center making their way into the Island’s groundwater.

So say the two men in charge — Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. and Town Engineer John Cronin.

The subject of plumes was discussed at the February 16 Water Advisory Committee meeting along with questions of why only 40 percent of material dumped at the Recycling Center was “capped.”

Capping is laying down barriers between contaminated substances, the surface and groundwater.
Committee members expressed concern at their meeting that in uncapped areas, poisonous materials might be leaching into the Island’s aquifer.

But Mr. Cronin, in a follow up interview with the Reporter, said the town hired Fagan Engineers & Land Surveyors, a civil and environmental engineering firm from Elmira, New York, to cap the original landfill in 1995. It was determined that the cap successfully covered the area designated as a possible source of contaminants.

Tests are conducted several times a year with results submitted both to Fagan Engineers and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which monitors the situation and would intervene if any problem occurred, according to Mr. Card.

What bears close monitoring right now, however, is what could become a dangerous situation — the compost pile at the Recycling Center producing toxic materials.

Leaves brought to the Center are ground up immediately into piles that are regularly moved around to dissipate nitrogen, manganese or any other problematic elements, Mr. Card said.

While noting that there is no imminent problem with the compost pile, Mr. Cronin pointed to a recently released Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHs) study on 11 sites west of Riverhead where composted vegetation contained manganese, metals, ammonia and arsenic leaching into groundwater.

The levels of the chemicals in the material, according to the SCDHS, were as high as 160 times what’s considered safe.

People think of composting as a natural, harmless process, Mr. Cronin noted, and in most cases that’s true. But as the situations in areas west of the twin forks have shown, there are exceptions.

Mr. Cronin and Mr. Card have concluded there is no crisis requiring action here, but they have discussed strategies to protect the Island’s groundwater. If it became necessary, they could place an impervious membrane on the ground under the compost pile, Mr. Cronin said.

“We’re alert to anything that would be a problem,” he added.

A report by CBS News on the 11 Suffolk County sites that showed manganese leaching into the groundwater said that “too much manganese is linked to Parkinson’s disease and neurological problems.”

The Suffolk County Water Authority issued a statement that no wells supplying drinking water have been affected.

“We constantly test our wells and in areas where we find naturally occurring manganese, we have treatment facilities in place to meet and surpass drinking water standards,” the SCWA statement said. “The drinking water we supply you is completely safe.”