National Grid: At Bay Shore home, soil tests show toxin levels hundreds of times above normal

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Soil vapor tests from beneath the basement of a Bay Shore home across from a former manufactured gas plant show levels of toxins that are hundreds of times above normal background levels, according to data sent to the homeowner last week by site owner National Grid.

Family members of homeowner Aristea Mousis, 84, had requested the tests after noticing strong chemical odors in the basement. When National Grid contractors came to test last month, they had to clear the house at one point because of odors from a drill hole, said Vinny Arena, Mousis' son-in-law.

"My main concern is for her health and the health of people who lived in that house in the last 40 years," Arena said. "We're afraid to have her grandchildren at her house."

Mousis' lawyer, Irving Like of Babylon, has sent letters requesting that she be relocated, among other measures, but the requests have been denied. National Grid said that's because the toxins measured in the air, rather than the soil, in other areas of the home including the kitchen and basement, though elevated, were not detected above background levels.

National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said the company would not discuss the home's test results specifically, but added, "based on the information collected from this residence to date, which has been provided to the . . . regulatory agencies, no environmental conditions have been identified which would require relocation of the resident from her home."

A state Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman didn't respond to requests for comment.

The test results shown to Newsday found toxins in soil vapor around the home such as naphthalene, xylene and toluene at high amounts. One form of xylene, for instance, which occurs in background levels at 0.5 to 21 micrograms per cubic meter of ambient air, showed at 12,300 micrograms. Benzene showed at double background levels, while toluene was more than 100 times normal background levels.

Naphthalene, a common constituent in coal tar, which was produced as a byproduct at the plant, shows up in 2,040 micrograms per cubic meter, significantly higher than the background levels of 2 to 12 micrograms.

The house is one block west of National Grid's most visible treatment center for the site, with an array of more than 60 oxygen injection points to treat the plume. National Grid says injecting oxygen into the plume encourages microbes to consume the toxins, and that the results to date have vastly eliminated the plume.

Grace Kelly-McGovern, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County's Department of Health Services, said county officials "concur with the conclusions that soil vapor intrusion is not occurring at this address. Indoor air concentrations did not appear impacted, as they were within background levels."

One expert said that the high levels of toxins that near the source and the front-line treatment center suggest there’s considerable work still to be done to clean up the site.

“This simply calls into question the effectiveness of the remedial efforts that have been made at the site,” said Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca environmental analysis company. “It’s clearly inadequate. It’s not cleaned up.”

Ladd countered, "We have made substantial progress in remediating the Bay Shore site. We continue to work with the regulatory agencies to optimize the remediation systems to treat the remaining impacted areas."

Hang said that while levels of toxins in the home aren't as high, they did register in the tests, likely resulting from contaminants outside the home.

"There's no dispute that this contamination is there," he said. "According to their own investigatory effort. There's no other possible conclusion you can reach."

Mousis' daughter Jean DeLucca urged National Grid or the state to act.

"The bottom line is, who will be responsible if something happens to my mother in the immediate future?" she said. "Who will be there to comfort her grandchildren and children if something happens to her?"

CORRECTION: Because of an editing error, this story has been revised to fully identify Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca environmental analysis company, as well as to restore information about his company’s findings. An earlier version of this story also incorrectly identified Grace Kelly-McGovern.

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