About 50 Port Washington residents attended a meeting at the library to comment on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) current plans for the former Munsey Cleaners site at 1029 Port Washington Boulevard. The site, located near the southeast corner of the intersection of the Boulevard and Main Street, has been a subject of controversy and community concern for many years.
The meeting, moderated by William Fonda of the DEC Stony Brook campus, began with formal presentations by the DEC and by the New York State Department of Health (DOH). A number of informative handouts from both agencies were made available. Vivek Nattanmai, P.E., of DEC Albany, went over the highlights of the history of the site and summarized DEC's actions to date and plans for the future.
The major contaminants at the site, as is the case with almost all dry cleaners, are perchloroethylene (PCE), also known as tetrachloroethene or PERC. The DEC handout stated, "The past disposal of hazardous waste at the site has contaminated soil, indoor air, and groundwater." The result of exposure to these toxins, which are airborne, can range from dizziness and fatigue to damage to the nervous and/or reproductive systems, liver and/or kidney damage, cancer, and other major health problems.
Nattanmai pointed out that DEC has divided the site into two "Operable Units." (DEC considers an "Operable Unit" to be "a portion of the site remedy that for technical or administrative reasons can be addressed separately.") In this instance, Operable Unit 1, the subject of this meeting and of the proposed remedial action plan, consists of on-site soil and groundwater. According to Nattanmai and the DEC handout, Operable Unit 2, which consists of the off-site soil and groundwater contamination emanating from the site, will be addressed as a separate project.
Nattanmai said that cleanup measures at the site, which began in October of 2000, included the removal of contaminated soil in the basement and soil tamping outside the building. In addition, a soil vapor extraction system (SVE) was installed in the basement, as were a positive pressure ventilation system and a sub-slab depressurization system. As a result of these and other remediation measures, Nattanmai said, "We sampled two tons of indoor air and have found that the contaminants have been reduced dramatically. In two locations, in fact, the levels were lower than they were outside." In summary, DEC is recommending that no further action be taken, apart from regular monitoring and maintenance.
Those who attended the meeting included representatives of organizations such as Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, Grassroots Environmental Education, Concerned Citizens of Manorhaven, Port Washington North Civic Association, and others, as well as individuals who live in the area and other community residents. Town Council member Fred Pollack also attended; he said, "This is an important issue, and I want to study it thoroughly before I take a position." The consensus among those community members who spoke was appreciation and acknowledgement to the DEC for the remediation of the site, but serious concern about the failure to address the off-site effects of the contamination, especially its effects on the groundwater. Paul Stewart, board member of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, said, "I commend the DEC for what they have done, but I think that separating the site into operable units is improper and should not be done. According to the summary, you have done this so you currently do not have to deal with the ground water contamination. The EPA recommendations state that vapor intrusion is a cancer risk, and I believe that DOH and DEC should monitor off-site wells. Groundwater is heading directly for the MC3 well. You are allowing the people who live in the area to believe that everything is OK...I believe that testing should be undertaken and, if necessary, the issue be addressed right away." Several other community residents expressed similar comments. One said she is worried about water in her basement; another said that she and neighbors notice a "funny odor" when it rains; yet another wondered about the groundwater going into Baxter Pond. Bob O'Brien from Concerned Citizens of Manorhaven pointed out that the MC3 is going in the direction of where a lot of people live. He asked the panelists, "How would you feel if you had this in your house?" Wendy Kuehner of DOH responded, "I wouldn't be inclined to worry about it." In response, Stewart said, "I think that is reckless." Nattanmai pointed out that the concentration of contaminants gets lower as the water travels. He did say, however, that DEC would look into responding to these concerns as quickly as possible, but said that DEC had to determine priorities, and cleaning up the site was deemed a priority. Nattanmai added that it was difficult to identify the "responsible parties." He opined that DEC would be able to begin addressing the groundwater and other off-site issues in early September, when the current phase would be completed.
In a subsequently issued statement, Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, alleged, "Current investigations of the residential community adjacent to the site have found levels of PERC in groundwater more than four times the amount found beneath the dry cleaner." The statement went on to point out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has indicated a strong likelihood that PERC vapors may be presenting unacceptable indoor air exposure to individuals living in residences with basements over the ground water plume. "Yet," said Residents, "the DEC is recommending that remedial action to address groundwater contamination and vapor intrusion beneath the adjacent residential community be put off until some undetermined future date. Residents believes the DEC and DOH must insure the health and safety of all individuals in the community by taking immediate action." (A list of recommended action steps follows.)
Doug Wood, an environmental activist and Main Street business owner, pointed out that the guidelines being used, which call for action at levels of 100 mcg. per cubic meter of air or above, are old guidelines. He said, "According to the new draft guidelines, the DOH calls for action to mitigate at levels of 3 [mcg/m3] and above. What if the new guidelines were in place?" He added, "As we discover more, we will see that it is harmful at any level and the acceptable level will keep going down." The DOH and DEC responses to this query were not definitive.
This site has a long and controversial history. Until 1994, the site was used for dry cleaning operations (prior to Munsey, there was at least one other dry cleaner at the site). In 1994, the DEC first listed the site as a Class 2a Hazardous Waste Disposal Site and, two years later, conducted a preliminary site assessment and began remediation measures, which have continued to the present time. In 2001, the Sbarro chain proposed opening a restaurant there, but abandoned their plans in the face of community opposition based on concerns about the contamination at the site. The site is currently occupied by Coldwell Banker, a residential real estate broker.
Anyone wanting to submit comments can mail them to Vivek Nattanmai, P.E., Project Manager, NYSDEC Division of Environmental Remediation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12223-7013. The comment period closes Aug. 16. Copies of investigation reports and other site documents are available at the Port Washington Library, and most of the documents are available on the DEC and DOH websites, accessible through the New York State home page http://www.state.ny.us/.