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Brookhaven asks EPA to remove buildings after fires at toxic site

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine at a

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine at a press conference at Brookhaven Town Hall on Tuesday, June 9, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine has asked federal authorities to remove buildings at a Superfund hazardous waste site in Port Jefferson Station after a series of fires there earlier this month.

Romaine, in a letter sent Wednesday to Environmental Protection Agency Regional Director Catherine McCabe in Manhattan, said hazardous materials in vacant buildings at the shuttered Lawrence Aviation Industries on Sheep Pasture Road pose a threat to firefighters.

No injuries were reported from the March 9 fires that burned three buildings, including a house and a two-floor warehouse. Suffolk County Arson investigators said the fires were set intentionally, but no arrests have been made.

Romaine’s letter cited several previous fires that have been reported at the site.

“This threat can only be truly mitigated by the removal of the contents and the razing of the buildings,” Romaine wrote.

An EPA spokeswoman said Thursday officials had not seen the letter and could not comment.

Lawrence Aviation, an aircraft parts manufacturer that closed in 2003, left tons of sludge and hazardous waste on its 126-acre property. The EPA is leading a $27 million cleanup that is projected to be completed by 2035.

Lawrence Aviation owner Gerald Cohen was charged in 2014 with violating the federal Clean Air Act by removing asbestos from a building on the grounds. Cohen has pleaded not guilty.

The March 9 fires started at an abandoned Willis Avenue house at 12:55 p.m., police said. The second fire, in a building on Hulse Road, was reported at 8:50 p.m. The third fire, at a vacant warehouse off Sheep Pasture Road, was reported at 9:15 p.m.

Firefighters from the Terryville, Coram, Selden, Mount Sinai and Miller Place fire departments took five hours to extinguish the flames.

Cohen said in an interview Thursday that the Willis Avenue house was not on his property. He also said it was unfair to single out his property as being more dangerous than the 34 other Superfund sites in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“Brookhaven or EPA would have a busy time taking buildings down” at Superfund sites, Cohen said. “If EPA used this as a remedy each time they found a contaminated site, that would be a strange remedy.”

In his letter, Romaine said water service and fire hydrants at Lawrence Aviation had been “terminated” several years ago because of a “lack of maintenance.”

Dennis Whittam, public information officer for the Terryville Fire Department, said removing buildings from the site “can’t hurt,” adding that any large building poses risks to firefighters from hazards such as collapsing roofs and floors.

“The stuff that burned in this fire were file cabinets, paper,” Whittam said. “They’re commercial buildings. They’re larger buildings. They also pose a hazard.”

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