EPA combs site where asbestos was illegally handled, say feds

A dump truck enters the gate of the former Lawrence Aviation site on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson Station on Tuesday morning, May 13, 2014.

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Federal agents raided an abandoned aviation factory in Port Jefferson Station Tuesday for signs of unlawful asbestos handling, months after a Suffolk construction firm was cited there for stripping the cancer-causing material from metal pipes.

The raid by Environmental Protection Administration agents involves looking into the treatment of hazardous materials from the long-shuttered Lawrence Aviation factory by DFF Farms Corp., owned by Thomas Datre Jr., sources said.

Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York, declined to comment beyond saying that the EPA's probe of the site is ongoing.

It also comes as Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota expands his separate probe into asbestos dumping in the county. Last week, Spota said that 32,000 tons of the toxic material had been dumped illegally at Roberto Clemente Park in the Town of Islip. Spota said "at least one unscrupulous contractor" was involved in dumping debris at the park.

Spota said Datre Jr.'s company as well as that of his father, Thomas Datre, have been searched by investigators looking into illegal dumping there.

Lawrence Aviation was shut in 2003 after solvents, oils and other waste had been dumped there for decades. The 126-acre parcel was declared a federal Superfund site in 2000 after officials determined the waste had created a hazardous underground plume that contaminated the area.

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Sources said EPA criminal division agents Tuesday were trying to determine whether asbestos had been illegally released there or in the surrounding area in recent months. They also want to know if asbestos was illegally removed from the factory and dumped elsewhere in violation of federal law.

In December, Thomas Datre Jr. and his company were cited by a state inspector -- while salvaging metal at the Lawrence Aviation site -- for failure to have both a valid asbestos handling license and valid asbestos certification and training, according to state records.

EPA civil officials at the time noticed clouds of white powder at the Datre worksite and called in inspectors from the New York State Department of Labor, which supervises asbestos removal at state work sites, sources said.

Nearly six months later, EPA agents are focused on how much asbestos at the site has been removed from pipes and other metal fixtures and placed in containers on the grounds.

Outside one of the buildings sat a large blue garbage bin, partly filled with discarded building materials. The bin was labeled with a sticker from a company that transports asbestos. Signs on walls of surrounding buildings warned, "Danger Asbestos Cancer And Respiratory Disease Hazard. Respiration Protection Required Beyond This Point."

Contractors spent part of the day building a small frame tent-like structure, covered in plastic, where materials could be tested for the presence of asbestos.

Datre Jr.'s attorney, Kevin Kearon of Garden City, said his client had a permit to dump "permissible" amounts of fill last summer at Roberto Clemente Park. Kearon said Datre Jr. had engaged in no wrongdoing at either the Lawrence Aviation site or the park.

In November, a park ranger wrote in an incident report to Islip officials and obtained by Newsday that material dumped at Roberto Clemente Park -- ostensibly for new soccer fields -- contained large boulders and was not suitable as an athletic surface. The ranger also stated in the report that a driver of a truck hauling the materials said he was from "Datre."

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Thomas Datre Jr.'s father, Thomas Datre, owns Ronkonkoma-based Datre/Daytree, which includes several debris-hauling and construction companies.

A spokesman for the state labor department, Chris White, said Tuesday that the investigations into Datre Jr. and Gerald Cohen, the owner of Lawrence Aviation, and the person who hired DFF Farms Corps. for the job, have been completed, but he could not comment further. An attorney for Cohen could not be reached for comment.

State inspectors cited both Datre and Cohen, and their businesses, for violating state asbestos control laws in December, according to state records.

"While operating an excavator during metal salvage operations, Mr. Datre broke and removed asbestos insulation that covered pipes," a state inspector noted in the records. "Mr. Datre does not possess NY State certification to handle or disturb asbestos."

With Gary Dymski

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