Private Wells to Be Tested Near Noyac Sand Mine

At a meeting in Noyac on Tuesday, Larry Penny thanked environmental groups for pressing the Suffolk County Health Department to release results from test wells at the Sand Land mine on the Noyac-Bridgehampton border. Hilary Thayer Hamann

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services will offer private well testing to residents of Noyac next week as a result of preliminary findings from water tests conducted by the agency that show abnormally high levels of contaminants such as manganese, cobalt, and arsenic in the aquifer beneath the Sand Land mine on the Noyac-Bridgehampton border.

In a letter addressed to the Noyac Civic Council president, Elena Loreto, James Tomarken, commissioner of the Health Department, said, “Our staff is in the process of initiating field work this week. As was the case with the past surveys conducted for this site, there will be no cost to the homeowner. Rest assured that the department will take every step to ensure that the evaluation is thorough and accurate.”

The contamination is widely considered to be a consequence of composting and mulching operations that have been conducted at the location since the company ran out of sand to mine several years ago. The mine spans between 30 and 50 acres in Noyac and is on top of one of the county’s six special groundwater protection areas. The impact of vegetative waste composting is still the subject of scientific study; however, it is believed that the unique runoff from the chemical processes involved with composting results in the mobilization of heavy metals that are naturally present below the surface. Once mobile, the heavy metals are released into the aquifer.

Sand Land does not have a permit for waste management operations, nor is that activity at the location regulated. This use has been the subject of ongoing litigation at the town and county levels.

Grace Kelly-McGovern, a spokeswoman for the Health Department, explained the water sampling and testing timeline yesterday. In October, she said, the department installed 10 test wells on the Sand Land property. “We drilled and collected samples within a two-week period beginning Oct. 4, 2017. The samples then went to the lab. Testing was completed by February 2018. By March 8, 2018, our hydro-geologists completed the validation and quality control processes, and samples were sent to the New York State Department of Health and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. A complete report will be issued by our agency in coming weeks.”

Earlier this month, the raw data from these tests were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests made by Robert DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and Elena Loreto of the Noyac Civic Council.

While waiting for the official Health Department report to be issued, Noyac residents hired an independent consultant to analyze and interpret the raw data. According to Stuart Z. Cohen of Environmental and Turf Services of Wheaton, Md., the samples indicated abnormally high concentrations of nitrate, manganese, and cobalt in the aquifer below the mine, and lead, arsenic, and manganese in the surface water. Dr. Cohen is an organic chemist and certified groundwater professional. 

“This is really serious. Very serious,” Larry Penny, a Noyac resident who is a former natural resources director for East Hampton Town, said at a meeting on Tuesday at the Old Noyac School House. It was the second of two meetings the Noyac Civic Council has hosted on the recent findings. “Without the Noyac Civic Council and these two people here and their organizations,” Mr. Penny said, referring to Ms. Esposito and Mr. DeLuca, “I don’t know where the hell we would be.”

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. thanked the Health Department for “being responsive and for being an advocate for the community” in a call from his office in Albany. “The Health Department went to court when the property owner wouldn’t give permission to do testing,” he explained. 

The assemblyman added that although progress has been made, “There is still plenty of work to be done, including private well testing, denial of approvals for an expansion of the mine, and a full on-site investigation by the D.E.C. to determine the extent of the contamination. The Town of Southampton needs to write to the D.E.C. and tell them they need to step up.”

According to Ms. Loreto, Dr. Tomarken called her personally on Friday to tell her that letters to homeowners will go out this coming week. She said she hopes to obtain a copy of the mailing list so that the Noyac Civic Council can reach out to residents independently to promote participation in the free testing.

“Private wells were tested previously, but we didn’t have much information at the time. First, the D.H.S. wells the samples came from were located off-site, not directly in the mine as the ones that followed the court order were,” Ms. Loreto said. “This time, there is more information,” she added, “So participation should improve. And of course, we are hoping that the D.E.C. will do a formal site characterization to verify the findings and give more precise details on the direction of flow and the range and extent of the contamination. Then we might need to conduct more private well testing.”

In a statement released by the D.E.C. on Tuesday, its regional director, Carrie Gallagher, said, “We are undertaking a comprehensive review of all mulch and organic waste facilities across Long Island, including the Sand Land facility. As part of this review, the D.E.C. will validate the raw data recently provided by Suffolk County Department of Health Services. If results warrant additional investigation, the D.E.C. will move quickly to conduct additional sampling.”

The State Assembly this week passed legislation authorizing local governments in Nassau and Suffolk Counties to “enact and enforce local laws requiring groundwater monitoring in connection with mining operations.” That bill now goes to the State Senate for consideration.

“The situation at Sand Land in Noyac illustrates the need for this legislation,” the assemblyman said in a release yesterday. “Years of regulatory neglect resulted in contamination that would more likely be associated with an open dump than a sand mine. The State D.E.C. never monitored the groundwater and failed to protect the public.” Sand Land, he said, is not the only mining operation where such impacts have been found. “There must be a comprehensive groundwater monitoring program adjacent to every mining site. Routine groundwater sampling and monitoring can help determine if groundwater resources are being impacted and will provide an early warning system for groundwater contamination.”