Additional information about the perc contamination under two dry cleaning businesses referenced in last week's issue, reveals that the situation is far more complicated than originally reported. First of all, the origin and discovery of perc underneath the former Munsey Cleaners site was not simple. Furthermore, the testing and cleanup was extremely convoluted and involved sites besides the two cleaners. Finally and unfortunately, although no perc contamination has yet been found in any of Port's drinking water wells, the NYS-DEC is nevertheless negotiating consent orders that require testing to determine if there is any ground water contamination near the sites where perc was discovered in the soil.
The 4 dumpsters have finally been removed from the Plaza Cleaners site, thus leaving Port with no visible signs of perc-contaminated soil on Port Washington Boulevard. The DEC is now requesting tests for possible ground water contamination, however.
The primary villain in this never-ending nightmare is still perc (percchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene or tetrachloroethene), a chemical used by most dry cleaners for cleaning clothes and used by automobile service businesses to clean auto parts. The NYS-DEC (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) classifies perc as a hazardous substance because it has been classified by the US-EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) as a possible carcinogen because it causes cancer in animals.
Areas that are found to have large concentrations of perc are sometimes placed on the NYS-DEC's list of Superfund sites. Superfund sites are then eligible for state funding if the owner of the property won't or can't clean up the property. According to Rosemary Konatich, speaking for the NYS Legislative Commission on Water Resource Needs, chaired by Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli, a property is sometimes cleaned up with Superfund money to speed up the remediation process, but then the state tries to get the property owner to reimburse the Superfund. The problem is that there isn't enough Superfund money to finance the cleaning of all the contaminated sites. Cleanups are also often very expensive. The property once occupied by Munsey Cleaners was designated a Superfund site, but so far, all the cleanup and accompanying legal fees have been paid by the property owners, the Montfort Trust. The Plaza Cleaners cleanup had to be financed privately because it was not a Superfund site.
A spokesperson for the Montfort Trust, which owns all the buildings on the east side of Port Washington Boulevard from the corner, former Munsey Cleaners site, down to, but not including, the Genovese Drug Store, said that perc was originally discovered in several concentrated areas near drains underneath the former Cleaners site after the DEC inspected for perc in August of 1994, and the NC-DOH (Nassau County Department of Health) inspected in February of 1995. The Trust was told that the inspections were a routine procedure required by the NC-DOH; however, a Trust representative is skeptical of this explanation because the test request didn't come until after the Trust announced controversial plans to lease the property to Santa Fe Restaurant. The request did not come from the restaurant management.
Joe DeFranco of the NC-DOH explained that all businesses that use perc are now subject to Nassau County Health Ordinance Article XI, which requires these businesses to obtain a permit and to be inspected periodically. The NC-DOH is an agent for the US-EPA which requires businesses to report how much perc they use, how it is delivered, disposed of, etc. This program has only been in effect for approximately ten years, according to Assemblyman DiNapoli's office, but when Plaza and Munsey Cleaners first opened, the use of perc was unregulated. The DEC oversaw the Munsey Cleaners soil cleanup because Munsey was a Superfund site. Because Plaza Cleaners was not, the NC-DOH oversaw its soil cleanup for the US-EPA.
Perc, along with several other contaminants, was discovered in the soil underneath the Munsey Cleaners site; the property was listed as a hazardous waste site, and the Montfort Trust agreed to hire CA Rich, an environmental consultant, to supervise contractors to cleanup the perc. First, all the soil that had perc in it, several inches of soil, enough to fill one large dumpster, were dug out and removed to a hazardous waste dump. At this point, only fumes from the perc remained. Then a process known as SVE (soil vapor extraction) was used to suck out the fumes. This methodology works because perc is a very volatile substance. The SVE procedure continued intermittently for 18 to 21 months, according to the Montfort spokesperson. Bob Masters, of Acadia Realty Trust, one of the Trust's legal counsels, said the DEC has now determined that the soil is free of fumes and given the property's soil "a clean bill of health;" therefore, the machinery that has been in the parking lot in back of the building, can finally be taken away.
The Montfort Trust spokesperson pointed out that the building is safe for occupancy - and has been for several years. The area in the basement where contaminated soil was found, has been permanently sealed off with cement and a locked steel door. Future occupants will not be allowed to enter that area. The perc is now gone and can't return.
Having been assured no health hazard lurks in the soil below, the Dance Arts Centre, a dancing school primarily for children, is now leasing space. A lease from Blockbuster fell through only because the national company decided to downsize. According to the spokesperson, the Trust is now engaged in contract discussions with several potential tenants.
Although perc has been permanently removed from the soil and can't return, unfortunately, if the perc seeped down to the ground water table before the perc removal, then damage could still exist in the ground water. As reported last week, health department officials and water department employees have not found any evidence of perc contamination in Port's drinking wells, which are a safe distance from the two cleaning establishments. Nevertheless, preliminary ground water testing detected perc in 43 parts per billion to 1900 parts per billion., whereas the DEC strives to keep concentrations down to 5 parts per billion, according to an environmental specialist who does not work for a government agency. The DEC is therefore concerned enough about possible ground water contamination to require additional testing. The DEC is currently negotiating a consent order for this testing with the Montfort Trust. Some of the topics being negotiated are where to locate test borings to accurately test and to fairly determine possible contamination sources (fault). Who should pay, is, of course, another issue.
Rosemary Konatich explained that assessing and cleaning up ground water is much more complicated than doing the same for soil. Because contaminated ground water plumes can travel, it is difficult to determine where and how many probes to make. These probes may not find signs of contamination even if it exists. She said water can be cleaned up, however - with a carbon filter or by pumping water out of the ground and treating it. What method is used, depends on the size of the contaminant and the direction of the plume.
According to both the DEC and the Montfort Trust spokesperson, the Montfort Trust has cooperated fully in complying with all DEC testing and clean-up requirements relevant to potential soil contamination. The DEC has likewise taken suggestions from the Trust. Neither party would comment on how much money the Montfort Trust has paid in legal and contracting fees, but the Montfort Trust person took a deep breath before saying, "a lot!" The spokesperson would not comment on whether the Trust is seeking remuneration from the Superfund or a previous tenant. She did, however, say that Munsey Cleaners was not the only dry cleaning establishment that had occupied the site. Darien Cleaners was there from about 1950 to 1978. Munsey Cleaners then left the site in 1995 when it was asked to move to make room for the Santa Fe Restaurant .
The Montfort representative vehemently said, "The Montfort Trust is not going to accept liability for all of Port Washington's perc." The Trust has supplied the DEC with a map that shows the location of 31 other possible sources of perc contamination. She said nearby, possible alternate sources include Plaza Cleaners down the street on Port Washington Boulevard, Port Detailing several blocks further south, Bill's Auto Repair catty-corner from the Montfort property, and a cigar store on Main Street once occupied by French Cleaners. Perc was discovered under Plaza Cleaners in March 1995; the soil clean-up was supervised by Zytel, PC, under the supervision of the NC-DOH for the US-EPA, and is now in the final stages. According to the Montfort spokesperson, Bill's Auto Repair underwent soil cleanup treatment three or four years ago.
As of press time, the owners and/or managers of none of these businesses could be reached for comment. Likewise, the Port Washington News had not yet learned whether the DEC has asked property owners other than the Montfort Trust to test for possible perc contamination of ground water. Joe DeFranco of the NC-DOH was available to confirm that contaminated water could travel to an area below the Munsey site from another source. He said contaminated soil could not travel, however.
NY State Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli was also available for comment. As chairman of the Legislative Committee on Water Resource Needs for several years, DiNapoli has been carefully following DEC actions at the Munsey Cleaners site. He says he is pleased to see that progress has been made with the ongoing soil remediation program. Now he wants to be assured that perc's impact on the ground water is properly assessed. He will continue to monitor and remain involved in the remediation work to make sure that appropriate actions will be made. DiNapoli wanted to assure the public that this is not a crisis situation; progress is under way, but Assemblyman DiNapoli will stay involved to make sure all potential problems are properly assessed and addressed."