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Sand mine report expected to show high metal levels

Suffolk County is preparing to release a study of a Noyack sand mining and mulching operation and its impact on groundwater.

Suffolk County is preparing to release a long-awaited study of the sand mining and mulching operation in Noyack of the Sand Land Corp. that’s expected to show excessive levels of at least two metals, deep in the groundwater.

A legislator and two people who have reviewed the report say that among the most troubling findings are the presence of manganese, which has been associated with neurological disorders, at nearly 100 times the drinking water standard and iron in excess of 200 times the standard. Manganese was found in groundwater and surface water, they said.

The Sand Land’s 50-acre operation has been under scrutiny by government and environmental groups concerned about its impact on the drinking water aquifer. Suffolk County’s Health Services Department, after a legal battle, was granted the ability to test groundwater last fall. Sand Land is owned by Wainscott Sand & Gravel of Bridgehampton.

Environmental groups have already released findings from the Suffolk study after obtaining them under the Freedom of Information Law. Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Group for the East End issued in March results that found cobalt and nitrate-nitrogen in water samples, and excessive levels of lead and arsenic beyond standards.

Brian Matthews, an attorney for Sand Land, said in a written statement that the company installed three of its own monitoring wells on site. He said Sand Land “supports the protection of water quality while allowing for the responsible use of land to provide services within the community.”

And he noted that the three monitoring wells were installed “despite the fact that our facility had only ever used natural brush or leaves for making mulch, and not construction, demolition or other treated materials.”

He said that while the company “cannot comment on a report that has not yet been released, our sampling results are inconsistent with the preliminary results previously released by the county.”

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said he’s seen a draft of the report and confirmed the higher levels of manganese and iron, among other findings. “It’s not just that they’re over the drinking water standard by that much, it’s how deep in the water table they are finding it,” he said, noting depths in excess of 120 feet.

Grace Kelly-McGovern, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Health Services, said the report is expected to be released next week, “if not sooner,” but she wouldn’t comment on it.

The high levels of metals found at the site, according to one person who’s seen the report, suggest that sand mining and mulching activity could be causing naturally occurring metals to move and accumulate in the ground water far more than in undisturbed earth.

The county report “has to say that there are detrimental ground water impacts from this site that are consistent with other vegetative waste sites across Long Island,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Since there’s no sand left to mine, they should be closed when their permit expires in November.”

Matthews said he disagreed that the site should be shuttered.

There are no public wells for drinking water in the immediate vicinity of the mine, but the aquifer into which the site feeds is in a special groundwater protection area that provides drinking water for Long Island’s East End. Private wells in homes around the site have not tested positive for the excessive metals, the sources said. But testing of private wells is not complete, and efforts to test all wells are continuing.

The report suggests activity at the site is similar to that at composting facilities tested around Suffolk County several years ago. That study recommended measures to contain water leaching from under compost and mulching piles.

Last fall, Suffolk officials obtained a warrant to conduct water tests at Sand Land after a series of complaints by homeowners, environmentalists and a nearby golf course about uses at the facility.

Thiele said he believes the findings are serious enough to block renewal of an operating permit and any expansion of activity at Sand Land. In addition, he said, “All this vegetative waste which the courts found is not legal should immediately be removed from the site. There’s a demonstrated adverse impact to drinking water there and that threat should be eliminated.”

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