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Roberto Clemente Park cleanup could take at least six months, say officials

Dwayne Dugger, 57, of Brentwood, joined community activists

Dwayne Dugger, 57, of Brentwood, joined community activists and Brentwood residents outside the locked gates of Roberto Clemente Park, Tuesday, June 17, 2014, to condemn town officials who they say have been unresponsive to their concerns of health and safety. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

It could take at least six months to fully clear Roberto Clemente Park of the estimated 50,000 tons of construction debris laced with toxins, Islip Town officials say, prompting concerns from health experts, environmentalists and local residents as they await full disclosure of contaminant levels.

The soil analysis Ronkonkoma-based Enviroscience Consultants Inc. has shared with Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and officials from Islip, the state and county health departments and the state Department of Environmental Conservation has not been publicly released.

"That's a problem," Dr. Marc Wilkenfeld, chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, said in an interview Tuesday about the results' not being made public. "From a public-health point of view, you need to know what was there and how much of it was there."

The town's cleanup timeline had to be extended after Spota, who is conducting a criminal investigation into multiple dumping sites throughout Islip, announced May 29 that heavy metals, pesticides and petroleum-based products had been found at the Brentwood park.

Initial tests for asbestos at the park were positive at levels as high as 44 percent, Spota said on May 6, but new findings of banned pesticides and insecticides such as DDT, chlordane and dieldrin and metals including chromium, cadmium and lead forced Enviroscience to rework the remediation plan.

The firm, working for the district attorney's office, has 30 days to complete the plan, town officials said, which requires approval from the state DEC and state Department of Labor. State and county health officials and the Suffolk County Water Authority will also weigh in.

The town will then need as many as four weeks to hire a contractor to start work, around mid-September at the earliest and only after Spota allows access to the site, officials said. The park has been closed since April 23 as investigators probe dumping as far back as last June.

Cleanup costs are expected to rise due to the range of contaminants confirmed and the possibility that some of the debris will have to be trucked out of state, town spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia said, but a final number cannot be calculated until the remediation plan is approved.

The added costs would require amending a town resolution passed last month to sell up to $6 million in bonds, based on early estimates of $3 million to $4 million for cleanup and $1.5 million to $2 million for reconstruction of the park and its pool.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Department of Health has hired Enviroscience to do $25,000 of work, including nine weeks of air testing at a contaminated site at Islip Avenue in Central Islip, which is said to have toxins similiar to those in the park, health department spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern said.

Commissioner of Health Services James Tomarken also ordered wetting of the debris at Clemente Park and Islip Avenue to minimize further public exposure to dust. Kelly-McGovern said the county would attempt to recoup the costs from the property's owner.

Analysis of soil samples from a Deer Park site at Brook Avenue, a wetland area on the Islip-Babylon town border, will be handed to the district attorney next week, sources said. Spota has linked the materials at that site to "the same individual and entities involved in the illegal dumping at the other sites in the Town of Islip."

Wilkenfeld said that unlike asbestos exposure, coming into contact with heavy metals or pesticides could shortly afterwards cause headaches, dizziness or gastrointestinal discomfort. Blood and urine tests are available for heavy metals and pesticides. "People have the right to know what they're exposed to," he said.

At an hourlong vigil outside the locked gates of Roberto Clemente Park Tuesday night, dozens of residents and community group members expressed emotions ranging from sadness to anger. Carnations were laid at the gates and candles were lit as residents pleaded for justice.

"We don't know how many adults or how many children are being affected by what happened here at this park," said Amado Pimentel of Brentwood, a member of the Latino advocacy group Make the Road New York. "We don't know . . . how our health is being affected by all the chemicals and all the toxins."

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