Another cleanup required
Contaminated Willets Creek flows past the grounds of Beach Street Middle School.

IB/Chalifoux

Another cleanup required

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
8/17/2017


WEST ISLIP—Last week, state officials met with residents at the West Islip Public Library to announce a $12.57 million cleanup plan for areas around the former site of Dzus Fastener Co. in West Islip. The work will mark the first phase in the process of removing harmful, cancerous pollutants detected around the property located at 425 Union Boulevard.

The Dzus Fastener site amounts to one acre in size and is located in a mixed residential, commercial, and industrial area. The triangular-shaped site covers the area of the former leaching pools. The site is bounded by Union Avenue to the south, the former Dzus facility and Beach Street to the west, and Long Island Rail Road tracks to the north. Immediately to the east of the site is Willets Creek, which drains south into Lake Capri – an eight-acre man-made lake. Lake Capri drains into the tidal portion of Willets Creek through a duct located under Montauk Highway.

The company produced fasteners and springs from 1932 to 2015. On-site leaching pools were utilized for the disposal of hazardous wastes.

Following extensive cleanup efforts in the 1990s to remove chrome and cadmium contamination in portions of Willets Creek and Lake Capri, the Dzus Fastener/DFCI site was reclassified a Class 4 superfund site, which requires ongoing monitoring of the area to ensure the remediation was effective. 

However, during more recent follow-up inspections, environmental engineers detected toxic materials still in the ground, particularly cadmium – a carcinogen that poses a “significant threat to human health and the environment.” Last year, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued an official statement noting that the property had been reclassified to a Class 2 superfund site, indicating a “substantial environmental threat to the surrounding area.” The latest studies detected around 8,000 ppm of cadmium in the middle of Willets Creek.

“Coastal flooding in the area [during Superstorm Sandy] uncovered another previously undetected area of contamination, which was discovered through our ongoing monitoring of the area,” read a DEC statement. “Additional contamination has been found in Willets Creek wetlands offsite of the Dzus Fasteners/DFCI property. This contamination is considered to have migrated from the one-acre source area (leaching pools) prior to the leaching pools being removed (1991) and onsite soils being remediated (1996).”

The DEC, along with the Departments of Health (DOH) and Law (DOL), are the parties responsible for ensuring the cleanup of inactive hazardous waste disposal throughout the state. Funding for the remediation plan will be generated from the state’s superfund program. Down the road, the state will look towards Dzus Fastener – now named DFCI Solutions Inc. – for reimbursement.

“The DEC is committed to cleaning up the Dzus Fastener site to protect the public and the environment, and we’re taking action to make sure nearby students will not be disrupted during the cleanup,” said DEC commissioner Basil Seggos. “For decades, New York State has sent a clear signal to polluters – if you contaminate communities in New York State, you will be held accountable.”

The specifics of the currently proposed plan were reached through what DEC officials referred to as a “remedial investigation and feasibility study process.”

“The remedial investigation fully delineated the nature and extent of contamination,” said Aphrodite Montalvo, DEC public relations specialist. “The purpose of the feasibility study [was] to identify, screen and evaluate various alternatives to address the contamination. Based on that evaluation, a preferred remedy was identified which is the remedy that the department has proposed and which is now subject to public comment.”

The Proposed Remedial Action Plan includes the removal of contaminated sediment from Willets Creek starting from behind the strip mall south of Union Boulevard to a point 500 feet south of the high school footbridge. Contaminated soil will also be removed from low-lying areas. Once the removal process is complete, the creek and the properties will be restored to its original state to the highest degree possible.

Once the ongoing public comment period is complete on Aug. 21 and all submissions have been reviewed, the final plan will be chosen and documented in a Record of Decision.

“The selected remedy will then be designed, a contractor procured, and the remedial action will commence,” said Montalvo. “The remedy implementation is expected to commence in the late summer/early fall 2018. This will permit time for the design and procurement work to be completed.”

A number of local community leaders and elected officials have been invested in the outcome and development of the proposed remediation. Fourth District NYS Senator Phil Boyle – who was in attendance at the meeting – has been working to alleviate the public’s concerns and assure everyone that the state is doing everything in its power to ensure that the work is completed in a swift, thorough, and efficient manner.

“It was concerning to see the amount of cleanup that’s going to be required,” said Boyle. “But I can assure the residents that we’re going to keep a close watch on the appropriate agencies throughout this cleanup process to make sure the site and creek are restored to as clean a state as possible to protect the residents…We’re going to keep their feet to the fire.”

Other spaces of concern are the two West Islip district schools adjoining Willets Creek downstream from the original site – Beach Street Middle School and West Islip High School. District officials have pledged to cooperate with state officials to make sure that the school’s grounds are deemed safe.

“The proposed cleanup plan by the DEC is a good one that we’re supporting,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “This is a comprehensive plan that would dig up and truck away all of the contaminated sediment in Willets Creek.”

However, Esposito noted that the DEC has not yet addressed cleanup of Lake Capri, where the water in Willets Creek ultimately winds up. She also said that officials should “quickly” advise nearby homeowners to stop using private wells, stop gardening near the affected waters, and post signs prohibiting fishing in the area.

“There’s also a lot of litter, garbage, and plastic that washes into that stream corridor and blocks the water from being able to stream properly,” said Esposito. “There needs to be a plan by the town engaging the public to not throw their garbage out there.”

To learn more about the ongoing site remediation process and further facts/details, visit http://www.dec.ny.gov/data/der/factsheet/152033ou3airm.pdf.

Documents are also viewable at the West Islip Public Library on Higbie Lane.

Questions and public comments (through Aug. 21) may be submitted to Payson Long at payson.long@dec.ny.gov.