Elevated levels of numerous minerals and contaminants have been found in test wells at a Noyac sand mine, according to a new report issued by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services June 29, and lawmakers and environmentalists gathered at the Noyac Schoolhouse on the morning of July 13 to push the state Department of Environmental Conservation and courts to shut down operations at the mine, which now include the storage of construction and demolition debris and materials for making mulch.
The Sand Land mine, on Middle Line Highway just east of Millstone Road, sits atop the deepest and most pristine part of the aquifer that serves the bulk of the South Fork, where complex hydrogeological conditions involving clay and silt make it difficult for scientists to determine the direction the contamination will travel.
The Suffolk County Health Department found concentrations exceeding drinking water standards for manganese, iron, nitrate and carcinogenic toluene in test wells at the sand mine, according to their report.
Concentrations of manganese were more than 100 times the drinking water standard, and concentrations of iron were more than 200 times the drinking water standard, according to the report, which found that levels of thallium, sodium, nitrate, ammonia and gross alpha also exceeded drinking water standards.
In March of this year, the Suffolk County Health Department began testing 36 private wells downgradient from the contamination, though none of those drinking water wells were found to yet have levels of the contaminants exceeding the drinking water standards.
But there is concern that the contamination has just made its way into the aquifer, and has not yet begun to move laterally and contaminate nearby properties.
“You just don’t find numbers like that, and the depth they’re finding them at, 137 to 154 feet, is the deepest part of the aquifer,” said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele at the July 13 press conference. “This is the deepest part of the aquifer, the part we’re supposed to be protecting the most.”
“The first place these chemicals go is straight down,” he added. “I fear unless this is cleaned up, we are going to find contamination [off-site].”
The sand mine, a 50-acre site, is pre-existing, non-conforming use in the area. While it is presently authorized by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to mine sand and gravel, that permit expires in November of this year.
Other uses of the site, such as collection of construction and demolition debris and mulch material, aren’t authorized under the state permit.
“The solution is to shut down this sand mine. It must be shut down,” said Mr. Thiele. “The DEC has not done its job with regard to sand mining for years. The DEC needs to do its job.”
Sand Land attorney Brian E. Matthews has not yet responded to a request for comment on the report.
Ordinance enforcement officers from Southampton Town have been visiting the property on a weekly basis, said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who said the town has issued citations for the processing of concrete and mulch on the site, but have not been able to convince a judge to issue an injunction against the continued operation of the mine.
“The Town of Southampton has made a legal commitment to enforce the law on Sand Land,” said Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni. “We’re well into several appeals. We’ve had violations thrown out that we’ve challenged in court and won. It’s been very litigious.”
“It helps when the courts and the DEC support what we are doing,” said Mr. Schneiderman.
If Sand Land’s application to the DEC to continue the operations at the sand mine after the permit expires in November include an expansion of the pre-existing non-conforming use, which is not permitted by town zoning, then “no agency can contemplate that application. End of story,” he added.
Mr. Scheiderman said the property could be revegetated and the slopes of the sand mine could be stabilized, but until a plan is made for the contamination to be cleaned up, the town would not be able to consider buying it for preservation.
In the meantime, environmentalists and lawmakers urged residents of Noyac who have private wells to contact the Suffolk County Water Authority to have their wells tested.
“Their wells are regularly tested all the time, and are treated for contaminants,” said Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca of the Water Authority. “The biggest difference [between public water and a private well] is they’re looking.”
Mr. DeLuca added that SCWA water testers know what contaminants are likely to be found in private wells as well.
“I’d love to have people take another hard look at this,” said Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming. “Public water may be the way we have to go.”
“We’re calling on Governor Cuomo to instruct the DEC to shut it down and clean it up,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “It’s not hard to do. It’s a sand mine that’s out of sand that’s looking to expand its permit, and its other activities are polluting the groundwater.”
“The governor controls the DEC,” she added. “It’s time for this business of polluting the groundwater and tolerating it to be over.”