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State: Cancer study not needed near former gas plant

State Health Department officials said they won't conduct a cancer study near a closed toxic gas plant straddling Garden City and Hempstead after finding no unusual cancer patterns and no evidence people were exposed to harmful chemicals.

The decision comes about a year after Hempstead Village officials requested that the state agency investigate the incidence of cancer among residents who live atop a roughly 4,000-foot-long groundwater plume that extends south of the site's location between Second and Intersection streets along Franklin Avenue and North Franklin Street.

The National Grid-owned property, the second-largest manufactured-gas-plant site on Long Island after Bay Shore, contains some 300,000 tons of polluted soil, the utility estimates.

The shuttered plant - which manufactured gas from coal and other products until the mid-1950s - is polluted with coal tar, which leached through soil as deep as 70 feet in certain areas, and into groundwater at depths between 25 and 100 feet.

Contaminants at the site include benzene, a known carcinogen, and benzo(a)pyrene, which likely causes cancer in humans, according to the state agency.

After the agency tested parks near the site and six buildings next to the most highly contaminated parts of the plume, it found no evidence that people were exposed to the pollution, an agency spokesman said.

In a letter last month to Hempstead Village, agency officials said they found "no evidence of any completed pathways by which people living in the vicinity of the groundwater plume could have come in contact with site-related materials."

The department said the request for a study did not include mention of residents with cancer in the vicinity, and no unusual cancer patterns were found.

Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall, whose administration requested the study in October 2008, after the utility began to clean up the site, said, "I'm not satisfied with their answer."

The site is one of 24 manufactured gas production, storage or transport sites in Long Island that the utility has agreed to remediate under a voluntary program with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the health department should have tested at least a dozen dwellings.

"The irony is that these are some of the most toxic sites in the state and yet are getting the least amount of attention" because the voluntary program has more lenient standards than Superfund sites, she said. "MGPs really are a kind of a legacy of highly toxic waste here on Long Island that is just now starting to get addressed."

About 7,000 tons of contaminated soil had been removed from that site by last December as part of a broader cleanup effort, state DEC officials said.

Hempstead resident Leone Baum, who lives atop the plume and has lobbied government and utility officials to speed up the site's remediation, said she's satisfied with the progress in recent months. "If the study had shown that there was a problem, then there would certainly have to be more in-depth study, but if the study did not indicate a problem, I think we should drop the matter," Baum said.

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