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Ex-owners of polluted East Patchogue flower farm sued for $7M cleanup

The Bianchi and Weiss greenhouses New York State

The Bianchi and Weiss greenhouses New York State Superfund site in East Patchogue, as seen on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

New York State Attorney General Letitia James and state environmental officials have filed a federal lawsuit against the former owners of an East Patchogue flower farm to recoup more than $7 million spent to remove pesticides from polluted groundwater and soil at the site.

State authorities in 2006 had said owners of the former Bianchi and Weiss greenhouses on Orchard Road had allowed chlordane to seep into soil at the farm, causing the formation of a 460-foot-wide plume of contaminated groundwater stretching about 2,900 feet under neighboring properties.

Chlordane, a once-common pesticide that was banned in 1988 by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, has been linked to cancer, breathing problems and other maladies.

In papers filed July 2 in Manhattan federal court, the state sued several former owners of the 14-acre site, including Kurt Weiss Greenhouses of Center Moriches and Henron Development Corp. and Phelps Lane Development Corp. which share a Ronkonkoma address.

Attempts to reach those companies and their owners were unsuccessful. Henron officials previously have said they should not be held responsible for cleanup costs.

State authorities have removed thousands of pounds of contaminated soil from the farm, the lawsuit said, adding it will take about 20 years to make groundwater there safe to drink.

Lawyers for the attorney general's office said in the lawsuit the state Department of Environmental Conservation had spent $7,137,827.84 to remove contaminated soil from the site. Those costs had not been paid by the former owners, the lawyers said.

"The state will continue to incur costs responding to the release and threatened release of hazardous substances at the site," the lawsuit states. "Until the chlordane-contaminated plume is restored to drinking water standards, the contaminated groundwater will not be available as a source of drinking water."

The DEC had ruled in 2012 that Weiss and another former owner, Bianchi Orchards, were responsible for cleanup costs. Bianchi, which had operated greenhouses there beginning in 1929 and dissolved in 1993, is not a defendant in the federal lawsuit.

Chlordane in drinking water can cause tremors, convulsions, breathing difficulties, anemia, depression and some forms of leukemia, the lawsuit said. Long-term exposure can cause cancer and damage to the liver, adrenal glands, kidneys, lungs and spleen, the suit says.

Weiss, which owned the site from 1992 to 2005, had removed contaminated soil at the site and dumped it in piles elsewhere on the property, the lawsuit states.

Henron, which bought the property in 2005 with intentions to develop a housing subdivision called Winwood Oaks at East Patchogue, dissolved three years ago but still owns the property, the lawsuit said, adding the company owes an unspecified amount in back taxes.

The Suffolk County Landbank Corp. is seeking bids to purchase and redevelop the site, the lawsuit said. The land bank is a nonprofit operated by county and local authorities to sell and re-use vacant and abandoned properties.

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