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Bay Shore residents file lawsuit over toxic plumes

Bay Shore residents have filed a new lawsuit against National Grid and its predecessor KeySpan, seeking to recover value in their homes that was lost because of toxic plumes under their neighborhood and the ongoing effort to clean them up, their lawyer said.

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Riverhead by William Sullivan and his wife, Lynn Chmurzynski, in December, says that a series of coal-tar plumes "invaded and stigmatized the value and marketability" of their homes.

Their Babylon attorney, Irving Like, said 37 additional residents have retained him and been verified as plaintiffs in the case, pending filing of an amended complaint next Wednesday.

Over the past half decade, Like said, he has filed 16 individual lawsuits against the companies, many of which have been dismissed or are on appeal, and filed tax grievances for 60 residents. Islip hasn't lowered valuations based on the plume, a spokesman said.

The latest suit says that continuing efforts to treat the plume will require future restrictions on the properties for an indefinite period, further devaluing them. The companies "have refused to certify in writing that the premises are free of contamination or toxicity," the suit states.

National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd declined to comment on pending litigation.

National Grid and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is overseeing the voluntary cleanup, have said their efforts are working, and that residents aren't in danger.

"No evidence of human exposure has been found in Bay Shore or Brightwaters and as remedial measures continue to reduce contaminant levels, the risk of human exposure continues to drop," according to a website maintained by National Grid. The DEC didn't respond to a request for comment.

Four separate plumes from a former manufactured gas plant at Union Boulevard and Community Road run beneath scores of homes, a school, a synagogue, a YMCA and businesses in the area. Over decades in the last century, the plant made a form of gas used for heating, lighting and cooking before widespread use of natural gas replaced it.

But the site left a legacy of highly toxic coal tar deep beneath the ground. Over the past seven years, much of the coal tar has been removed, and the plume is being treated with oxygen to encourage microbes to consume the toxins.

Sullivan was once an advocate of the cleanup. On Wednesday, he appeared before a luncheon of the Bay Shore Lions Club to explain why he has become one of its most visible detractors.

"We've been told, 'Your house basically has no value because of the plume and the proximity to all the equipment to mitigate the plume,' " Sullivan said, citing real estate agents.

Worse, he said, state and local regulators have declined to provide residents with certification that clears their properties as safe. Special permission may be required for building, for instance.

Inez Birbiglia, a spokeswoman for Islip Town, said because "this has occurred over many years, those properties may have already been flagged in our databases. If so, the requirements would be there to go an extra step to the state or the county" for permission to excavate, for a pool, for instance.

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