East Hampton's Hortonsphere during the early stages of demolition last month.
East Hampton’s Hortonsphere during the early stages of demolition last month.

East End environmental advocates have been pressuring the state Department of Environmental Conservation to provide easy public access to data on contaminated sites throughout the state for three years, and this winter they got their wish.

In mid-November, the DEC added information on 1,950 contaminated sites throughout the state to its database, which already contained records on 2,500 contaminated sites.

The Group for the East End has been working with State Assemblyman Fred Thiele for three years on a state bill to require the sites be posted on the DEC’s online registry, in order to increase transparency and awareness of sites the DEC is investigating.

“We believe the earlier the public and municipalities are knowledgeable about contamination, the more capable we all are of making informed decisions about protecting ourselves and the environment,” said Jennifer Hartnagel, an environmental advocate at Group for the East End.

The database is available online here. It includes 278 records in Suffolk County, 56 of which are on the East End.

Some, like the Speonk Solvent Plume and other contaminated sites in Speonk, the Rowe Industries Superfund site and the Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor, dry cleaners and print shops, contamination at the former Grumman plant in Calverton and contaminated groundwater below nearly every landfill on the East End, have long been documented.

Others, like the Hortonsphere site on Railroad Avenue in East Hampton, are currently being remediated. The Hortonsphere, a large blue ball once used to store natural gas, is the last blue ball of its kind in the state. Sag Harbor’s blue ball, long a navigational landmark for sailors approaching the port, was dismantled about a decade ago in order to remove contaminated soil below the site.

The site of the East Hampton Hortonsphere, which is being dismantled by workers from National Grid, had long suffered from large deposits of lead in the soil, which were removed earlier this year, according to the DEC website.

Other, smaller sites may take East Enders by surprise. Included in the database is a small cluster of private homes in the depths of East Hampton’s Northwest Woods, whose wells tested positive for PCE and chloroform in the mid-1990s. The source of the pollution was never found, due to the complex geology beneath the site, but the Suffolk County Water Authority has since brought public water to the area.

The Camp Hero Radar Antenna
The Camp Hero Radar Antenna

The database includes a number of sites designated “PR”, which the DEC is quick to point out means they are sites that are potentially in need of remediation, but are in very preliminary stages of investigation. “Significant conclusions or decisions should not be based solely upon this summary,” they caution.

Other sites, labeled with an “N,” contain information that is many years old and may not have been updated for quite some time. Among the “N” designated sites are the former Department of Defense bombing range at Cartwright Island off the coast of Gardiners Island, known by fishermen and sailors as “the Ruins.”

According to the database, “no evidence of munitions of explosive concern or munitions debris were found on the island during the March 2009 Qualitative Site Reconnaissance. There was no evidence of target or range-related activities. The Department issued a no further action letter in August 2009.”

A smattering of sites on the North Fork, including solvents and gasoline additives at Mitchell Park in Greenport and the Mattituck Airport, include histories of clean-up efforts that have proved successful.

At Sag Harbor’s Bulova Watchcase Factory, currently under redevelopment as a condominium complex, the DEC database makes no mention of any remediation action taken after 2009. The site, which had been contaminated with solvents, chromium, lead and mercury, has long suffered from vapors in the soil, and the DEC says barriers must be put in place to prevent the vapors from intruding into the building, while making no mention of whether that work has been done.

Other sites, like the former air force station at Camp Hero in Montauk, are still cloaked in mystery. The website says that hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste were removed from Camp Hero in 1994 and ordnance and explosive waste were removed from the site in 2003, but the long-term management of the clean-up there by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to continue for 15 years. It is considered a state Superfund site.

The Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor
The Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor


Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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