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State's steps for tackling toxic pollution

1 PROBE When a suspected hazardous waste site is referred to the DEC, investigators do a preliminary assessment to determine if toxic substances are present and the degree of danger they pose.

2 RANKING Polluted sites are categorized by the degree of risk they pose to public health or the environment: imminent danger, significant threat or no significant threat. The Copiague property is one of some 120 on Long Island classified as a "significant threat."

3 FULL INVESTIGATION Priority goes to the biggest or most dangerous sites. Probes usually start at the source of the pollution, then investigators fan outward to track if toxic substances have traveled off-site. Temporary measures may be put in place to control contamination: fencing off the site, carting away chemical drums or polluted soil, or pumping up tainted groundwater for treatment.

4 CLEANUP After public input, investigators select a remedy, looking at effectiveness, cost and how well it protects public health and the environment. Plans may involve removing contaminated soil, treating groundwater, or capping polluted sites to limit exposure. Engineers design the remedial plan and construction begins. Treatment can take years, and the DEC may monitor sites for decades.

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