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John Hallman crosses swords with WAC member over water testing

JULIE LANE PHOTO | John Hallman.

John Hallman begs to differ.

In strong words this week, Mr. Hallman told the Reporter that Peter Grand, a member of the Water Advisory Committee (WAC), had “scared people” when he commented on tests that revealed a well in the Center near the school had nitrate levels above safe standards for drinking.

Mr. Grand had said that the test results, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) last October and released to the town six weeks ago, “Raise concerns about our groundwater, Island-wide, and not just near the school … The most important point to convey is that the time has come for the community as a whole to seriously address the need to protect the aquifer for generations to come.”

Mr. Hallman, former chairman of the WAC who has his own commercial water testing business, said Mr. Grand “scared people into thinking the water’s polluted. It’s not.”

He pointed out that there’s not a problem “with nitrates in the Center except for one or two places. All the other wells I’ve [tested] are not a problem. What [Mr. Grand] is saying is not true.”

Mr. Grand responded to Mr. Hallman’s charge, telling the Reporter, “I have no intention of scaring people,” and that the USGS testing is a three-year program dedicated to testing “precisely, so that we can get a fuller picture of water across the Island.”

The tests, done at the Center well and in two other locations “all raised concerns that it might be best not to ignore,” Mr. Grand added. “The specific data is available for anyone to examine.”

Supervisor Jim Dougherty, after receiving the test results and meeting with Town Engineer John Cronin — who declared the data indicated a potential “public health issue” — issued a May 19 press release suggesting that Center residents “may want to consider having their own wells tested for water quality as high nitrate levels affect the quality of drinking water.”

According to Cornell University Cooperative Extension, an excess level of nitrates is especially harmful to infants and young children and “indicate[s] the possible presence of other more serious residential or agricultural contaminants, such as bacteria or pesticides.”

Mr. Cronin, asked to comment on the dispute between Mr. Grand and Mr. Hallman, supported the former, noting that, “I’ve compared this to finding single case of Ebola in Brooklyn and concluding that ‘It’s only one case, what’s the concern?’ That’s not the way responsible public officials respond to a public health threat.”

Mr. Cronin noted that he had contacted the legal ethicist for the National Society of Professional Engineers who had looked at the Island test well results and “concurred public disclosure was paramount,” Mr. Cronin said.

He added that “statistical mathematics tell us that the behavior of a ‘population’ — say every well in the Center — can be accurately reflected in an appropriately sized sample.”

Mr. Hallman said that “what really riles me is when the town puts people on that committee [WAC] who have no idea what water is. You have people looking for solutions that they don’t know anything about.”

The next meeting of the WAC is scheduled for Monday, June 19, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.