Dangerous toxins found at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, DA says

On May 29, 2014, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota revealed the results of the extensive testing that was performed at the sites where illegal dumping occurred, and he announced that the debris found at a wetlands site on the Islip-Babylon town border was dumped by the same people responsible for dumping at Brentwood's Roberto Clemente Park and a privately owned site on Islip Avenue in Central Islip. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

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Heavy metals, pesticides, petroleum-based products and asbestos have been detected in debris at an Islip Town park and at a private property in nearby Central Islip, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota announced Thursday, noting it may take months -- if not years -- to clean up the dumping.

Remediation of Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood will be a "long-term process," Spota said, and will include several state departments -- environmental conservation, health and labor, which regulates asbestos cleanup -- as well as the Suffolk County department of health.

"For sure there will be no soccer, there will be no baseball at Roberto Clemente Park this year and quite frankly, it's even questionable whether there will be next year as well," Spota said.

While announcing the results of testing at the park and the privately owned site along Islip Avenue in Central Islip, Spota said that the debris found earlier this month at a wetlands site in Deer Park was put there by the same people responsible for dumping at the two Islip locations.

"We have connected the materials there to the same individual and entities involved in the illegal dumping at the other sites in the Town of Islip," he said.

Investigators launched a criminal probe into the dumping seven weeks ago and are weighing whether environmental crimes were committed and if corruption of public officials played a role, sources said.

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A growing estimate

Initially, officials estimated about 32,000 tons of contaminated construction and demolition debris had been deposited at the park, but detailed subsurface sampling revealed that closer to 50,000 tons had been dumped at the facility, Spota said.

Town officials earlier this week put preliminary estimates of the cleanup cost around $3 million to $4 million, but the district attorney's announcement Thursday will cause the cost to increase, they said.

"It's not really clear yet," Islip Town Attorney Robert Cicale said of the projected cost. "We'll know that when we see the remediation plan."

The state and county departments must sign off on the town's remediation plan before the town can hire a contractor to do the work, officials said. Actual cleanup at the park is unlikely to start for another four to six months, experts said.

 

Further testing

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Spota said the town had undertaken testing at a second Islip Town park -- known as the Suffolk PAL fields at Clayton and Lowell avenues -- at which asbestos was found.

The town recently issued a stop-work order after a surface inspection at the site earlier this month revealed five pieces of asbestos-containing pipe behind a mulch berm at the property's southwest periphery.

Spota said he was awaiting the results of further testing by the town at that site.

Investigators also are waiting for final test results next week from another location suspected of dumping -- the housing development for veterans in Islandia. Initial results indicated no asbestos was found in the samplings, Spota said.

Thursday, the district attorney reeled off a list of materials detected in subsurface samples taken from the Roberto Clemente soccer fields and recharge basin -- where children sledded in January before scores of truckloads of debris were removed from the park.

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The hazardous metals found at the park, Spota said, include antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, copper, zinc and cobalt.

Some of the materials found in the samples, Spota said, are either "hazardous" or "acutely hazardous," but he did not release the concentration levels.

He said testing at the park had revealed levels of banned pesticides, including chlordane, banned in the United States since 1988; DDT, banned since 2001; and Dieldrin, no longer produced in the United States "because of harmful effects on humans, wildlife and fish," he said.

There also was evidence of improperly disposed petroleum products at the park, Spota said.

Similar metals, pesticides and petroleum products also were found at the Islip Avenue site.

Spota said there are ongoing concerns about the site.

"This site is still dangerous because it is private property; it has not been secured in the same fashion as the park," Spota said. "There are portions of it that have spilled over not only onto private property but into public, the roadway, next to the roadway itself. That would certainly present a risk to trespassers or any other people who enter that property."

Pesticides are of particular concern, he said, "because they linger for many, many years in the environment after they had been used," Spota said.

Several of the hazardous materials, including lead, chromium and cobalt, are known carcinogens if people ingest, inhale or come into contact with them via the skin at certain concentrations, experts said.

Cadmium and the pesticides found at the site are also neurotoxic, or brain damaging, for humans, experts said.

 

Examining the samples

In total, 40 subsurface soil borings were taken at Roberto Clemente -- 24 at the soccer fields, 10 at the recharge basin and six as background samples to compare against the 34. No more friable asbestos was found from the borings in the park, the sources said. A single sample of friable asbestos -- the kind easily airborne -- was found earlier.

Out of another 23 surface samples collected for asbestos at the soccer fields within the park, 13 had asbestos-containing materials -- asbestos in the more stable, less dangerous form.

Of 11 surface samples collected for asbestos at the park's recharge basin, eight were positive for asbestos.

At the Islip Avenue site on the corner of Sage Street, eight out of 10 samples taken off the surface were positive for asbestos-containing material in its more stable form.

Three sets of air-testing samples taken at locations around the park's perimeter in the past few weeks have not tested positive for asbestos.

At Islip Avenue, investigators were unable to take vertical core samples owing to the unstable, piled-high shapes of the debris and instead drilled into the piles laterally using hand-cranked augers. Air-testing is set to begin at this site shortly.

 

Risks to public health

State Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), a geologist who teaches Long Island natural history at Stony Brook University, said the asbestos found at the two sites would not pose a hazard to groundwater because as a mineral, it's chemically stable at normal temperatures.

"Heavy metals, however, are very problematic -- with few exceptions," he said. "When they come mixed with other elements that are soluble, they become much more dangerous -- even in tiny amounts, they can prove toxic or cancer-causing."

Many heavy metal compounds run the gauntlet, Englebright said. "Pure cadmium, for example, is a real problem, as are some of its forms that combine as salts. But cadmium . . . in a glass container, for instance, may not be a problem."

Investigators would need to determine how stable and how susceptible to becoming dissolved by water the materials they found are, he added.

Rainwater hitting the ground percolates through the acidic crushed granite soils of Long Island and that acidic water adds to the solubility of some metals, posing greater risk to public health.

"Once dissolved, it becomes part of the water potentially that we either swim in or drink and can then be absorbed through our tissue -- either the stomach or skin -- endangering us," Englebright said.

Certain pesticides -- by design, intended to kill their target organism -- could prove neurotoxic and carcinogenic particularly if they wind up being inadvertently combined in "a toxic brew" with other contaminants, he said.

Under New York State Department of Environmental Conservation law, the presence of certain contaminants at concentrations detected at the park and Islip Avenue are sufficient to bring criminal charges, officials said.

Spota said a special groundwater investigation is likely as a result of the debris dumped at the recharge basin in Roberto Clemente park.

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