Written by Chris Boyle Friday, 21 March 2014 00:00
Ask pretty much anyone in the Farmingdale community about the biggest eyesore in the area, and most likely, they will reply with a single, solitary word: Waldbaums.
The spot those residents would be referring to, of course, is the former Waldbaums Shopping center located on Main Street. With its boarded-up windows and gutted storefronts, the strip mall—currently without an owner and completely vacant for some time, except for a Chinese take-out restaurant that is currently squatting—has many locals crying foul over its dilapidated appearance. However, the real issue lies, not in what people can see, but what they cannot.
Among the stores that had previously called the Waldbaums Shopping Center home, the Farmingdale Plaza Cleaners, unfortunately left its mark on the community in the form of an underground toxic plume containing tetrachloroethene, or PCE, which is a colorless liquid used in dry cleaning. Although the establishment has been gone for some time now, as a result of the inaction by the dry cleaner's former owners to do anything about the ground contamination, the Walbaums Shopping Center has been classified as a
"Superfund" site and is now under the jurisdiction of a United States federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances using governement funds.
On March 11, the Village of Farmingdale held a public hearing with the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation to present a proposed plan to clean-up the Waldbaums site. According to Bill Fonda, a citizen participation specialist with the state
DEC, public opinion on the proposed clean-up plan is encouraged and will be taken into consideration until March 24, meanwhile the DEC will make its final decision before April 1.
“If approved, we will contact contractors and consultants to evaluate the site and design a plan,” Fonda said. “That process usually takes up to a year to complete, at which time we will break ground and begin to pump out the contaminants.”
NYSDEC’s Chek Beng Ng gave an overview of the history of Farmingdale Plaza Cleaners at the Waldbaums site, which opened its doors once the shopping center was constructed in 1983, and when United States Environmental Protection Agency testing was
conducted in 2000 it was discovered that there was a significant amount of tetrachloroethene in the soil and groundwater in the area, and that the dry cleaners was the likely source, Ng said, although the pollution was most probably inadvertent and unintentional.
“In 2002, the site was listed as a Class 2 site on the New York State DEC Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites,” he said. “In 2005, the potentially responsible parties failed to sign an Order of Consent and the site was referred to the State Superfund for Remedial Investigation.”
Ng pointed out that the contamination in the area is in no way affecting the drinking water of Farmingdale residents; the trajectory of the toxic plume does not place it near any drinking water wells, he said.
Bridget Callaghan Boyd, of the New York State Department of Health, held a brief presentation at the meeting that concurred with Ng’s safety estimation.
“Contact with contaminated soil or groundwater is not likely,” she said. “The contamination is located at a depth below concrete or building foundations, and the area is served by public water that originated away from the site.”
However, the plume continues to slowly spread, and to do something about it once and for all, Ng unveiled several potential strategies that the NYSDEC has considered, and the one that they had finally decided on to combat it.
“The remedial alternative we are proposing is modified pump and treat with long-term monitoring, which will cost approximately $1,631,000,” he said. “We will design and install a groundwater extraction system, place extraction wells at the leading edge of the
highest PCE concentration, treat the extracted water with granular-activated carbon filters, and monitor the area for five years afterward.”
In the meantime, since any entity that purchases the property will be forced to take on a portion of the cost of cleaning up the groundwater contamination, it is likely that the Waldbaums Shopping Center will remain vacant until such time as the clean-up is completed; the exact timetable for that, according to NYSDEC representatives at the meeting, is uncertain until they actually break ground and see first-hand what they’re dealing with.