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State to test for contaminants at Kings Park landfill

More than $1.6 million in back taxes are

More than $1.6 million in back taxes are owed at the former Steck Philbin landfill in Kings Park. Credit: James Carbone

New York State environmental officials are poised to open an investigation into hazardous materials that may be present at the former Steck Philbin landfill in Kings Park, a move that could complicate and delay a Suffolk County Landbank plan to sell the tax-delinquent property. 

The preliminary investigation will sample soil, groundwater and surface water and trace possible “contaminant migration pathways” nearby for a group of chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA, a Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman wrote in an email. The chemicals  are used to make stain- and water-resistant materials, and exposure over certain levels can cause cancer and other adverse health effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

If DEC officials determine the 25-acre Steck site off Old Northport Road is a source of contamination and poses a “significant threat,” they could add the site to the state’s Superfund Program registry, the spokeswoman wrote.  

“That would tie up any redevelopment on the site for a decade,” said Sarah Lansdale, director of the landbank, a nonprofit operated by county officials to facilitate rehabilitation of tax delinquent brownfield sites. DEC officials would need “unfettered” access to the site during Superfund investigation and longer-term access for cleanup, said Michael Ryan, the agency’s environmental remediation director.

Less dire findings could open another path to cleanup through the state’s brownfield cleanup program, which offers tax credits to property owners who typically pursue remediation during redevelopment. DEC officials said that program's investigation and cleanup standards are as rigorous as the Superfund's.

Landbank officials favor the brownfield cleanup approach, which they said could return the property to tax rolls in just two to three years and at private, rather than public expense. More than $1.6 million in back taxes is now owed on Steck, and the county is obligated to pay the bill for local jurisdictions. 

Albany developer Uri Kaufman and Kings Park’s Cox family, both bidders on Steck, have said they would enroll in the brownfields program, Landbank officials said. 

How a Superfund designation might affect bidders’ appetite for Steck was not clear. Kaufman did not respond to a request for comment; a lawyer for the Cox family did not immediately comment. 

Landbank officials earlier this year accepted a $1.3 million bid from Michael Cox, principal of Kings Park-based Pioneer Landscaping & Asphalt Paving, for another site next to Steck, the former Izzo tire dump, but the county legislature has repeatedly tabled a resolution authorizing the sale of that site’s tax liens.     

DEC officials said they decided to investigate Steck after reviewing in March an environmental report from a Landbank consultant that showed elevated levels of the chemicals in groundwater there. The report also found elevated levels of 1,4 dioxane, a chemical found in solvents and household products that the EPA considers to be a likely carcinogen.

“We have areas where there is contamination but we don’t know much about how that relates to the entire 25 acres at this point,” said Dale Desnoyers, a landbank consultant who formerly held Ryan’s position at the DEC.

The EPA’s health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA is 70 parts per trillion. A county health department survey at Steck in January found PFOS at 622 parts per trillion, PFOA at 821 parts per trillion and 1,4 dioxane at 13.7 parts per billion at their highest concentrations. But samples from 15 of 28 properties near Old Northport Road potentially served by on-site domestic wells were within the proposed New York State drinking water standards for PFOS, PFOA and 1,4-dioxane, a health department spokeswoman wrote in an email.

A March survey of 38 properties west of Nissequogue River returned 32 samples, none above federal standards for PFOA or PFOS. Five exceeded the proposed state standards for 1,4 dioxane.

DEC officials found “no documented disposal of hazardous waste” when they examined Steck in 1994, Ryan said, adding that PFOA and PFOS were not considered hazardous or subject to testing until 2016. 

Cleanup of the site — which rises above neighboring properties and contains what appears to be construction debris under a thin layer of soil and underbrush — could involve a “pump and treat” system, a barrier wall, a covering, or a combination of methods, Ryan said. 

The Steck site remained last week on a list of properties for which the landbank is seeking redevelopment proposals. 

Suffolk Leg. Rob Trotta (R-Ft. Salonga) has said the Landbank should delay the planned sale of the Izzo site, which he said could be needed for part of the Steck cleanup, and criticized the DEC for what he said was its slow response to blighted sites in Kings Park.

In response to that criticism, the DEC spokeswoman wrote in an email that the agency works "in communities throughout Long Island to comprehensively investigate and clean up contaminated brownfield sites" and would cooperate with agency partners and potential buyers at Steck to ensure "potential health and environmental impacts are fully addressed." 

Ryan said the Izzo land might not be needed for Steck cleanup. “I don’t know we want to stand in the way of a potential property sale,” he said. “We’ve had to work before in environments where we didn’t have the benefit of a lot next door.”

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