2002-12-07 / Front Page

‘Toxic Washing Machine’ Meeting Set

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

Fence keeps residents out of Class 2 Toxic Waste Site that was the former LILCO MGP Plant on Beach Channel Drive between Beach 108 and Beach 110 Streets in Rockaway Park. DEC will hold meeting to address site's cleanup.Fence keeps residents out of Class 2 Toxic Waste Site that was the former LILCO MGP Plant on Beach Channel Drive between Beach 108 and Beach 110 Streets in Rockaway Park. DEC will hold meeting to address site's cleanup.

A "toxic washing machine" full of deadly chemicals is "sloshing back and forth" under the soil of the site on Beach Channel Drive between Beach 108 Street and Beach 110 Street that was once a LILCO Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP), according to Todd Lessing, a Keyspan Energy expert who will soon tell the community what he and New York State plan to do about it.

The public meeting to address the problem and possible solutions for cleaning up the site will be held on January 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Beach Channel High School.

Lessing told a meeting of community leaders and politicians last week that, while deadly chemicals such as benzene, cyanide, tar, toluene and others are in the ground water under the site, there is no indication that they are in the drinking water.

And, Lessing says, they are not migrating out of the site.

"They are like a giant toxic washing machine, sloshing back and forth under the ground," Lessing told the group. "There is no evidence that there is any contamination south of the site."

To the south of the site lies shopping areas and homes, as well as the Dayton Towers complex.

There is some indication that the chemicals have migrated in a northern or northeastern direction – toward Beach Channel Drive and Jamaica Bay.

According to Lessing, some contamination was found on the strip of land between Beach Channel Drive and the bay.

"There is no data that suggests that the public is being exposed to chemicals in any way," he added.

For 70 years, from the late 1880’s until the mid 1950’s, the site was used by LILCO to produce gas from coal. It is the toxic residue for that process that despoils the site.

In 1998, the site was added to the State’s Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites as a Class 2 site. Class 2 sites are defined as sites "that pose a significant threat to the public health or environment and requires remedial action." Such sites are often called "Superfund Sites" in shorthand because they are part of a federal program to clean up those sites.

Over the past two years, a small portion on the northwest section of the site was demapped by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) so that a new substation could be built.

While there was some controversy over the plan to build a new substation on that site and a number of opponents wanted the remedial work done prior to the construction of the substation, the DEC gave permission for the work and it was completed on schedule.

That substation is now on line and the old substation, built in the 1920’s, will soon be completely disassembled. The old control house and the two remaining transformers will be removed with "constant air monitoring of the site."

"We are going to take the old substation down to the concrete," Lessing told the meeting.

The experts agree that it is now time to do the remedial action required by law.

In fact, the investigation that will lead to the remedial work began in 1999, when fieldwork was done to "define the nature and extent of the contamination" on the site.

Keyspan is now doing a "Feasibility Study" based on those tests to come up with a remedy that would "reduce or permanently do away with the contamination."

There are a number of ways that can be done. The traditional method is to remove all of the soil from the site and replace it with clean fill. That is a very expensive and time-consuming procedure.

According to Keyspan experts, there is a new technology which might allow the chemicals to be broken down and made safe right on site.

"We are doing bench scale tests now to see if that is feasible," Lessing said. "If those tests look good, we will test the technology on a larger piece of the site."

"We have to find out if it works on the large scale and if it will not cause more problems that it solves," Lessing said.

That study has to be submitted to the DEC by March of 2003.

The state will then look at the study and come back to LIPA/Keyspan with questions and other things it needs clarified.

"This usually takes a few months," Lessing says.

When all of the questions are asked and answered, a plan for remediating the site has to be drawn up.

When Jon Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14 asked how long the process would take, he was told that "we are almost a year away from even thinking about how it would be cleaned up."

In fact, the final report to DEC would probably be slated for late in June or early July of 2003.

The final remedial plan could come as early as February or March of 2004.

Then, after public hearings and a DEC review, the work to clean up the site could begin.

How long would it take before the site can be taken off the Superfund List?

That depends.

"We would prefer to take care of the problem right on site," Lessing said. "We have a long way to go before that decision is made."

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