EPA responds to public leery over cleanup

Officials explain processing of toxic water at Superfund site

KINDERHOOK–Over 200 people packed into St. Paul’s St. Episcopal Church in Kinderhook Monday night to talk to representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency about the water treatment plant at the former Dewey Loeffel landfill. Earlier in the day, reporters and local officials were given tours of the plant in the Town of Nassau, where the federal Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing the treatment of polluted groundwater from the 19-acre Superfund site.

After the water is treated at the new $2.5 million plant, it is being released into the Valatie Kill, which flows through Kinderhook Lake into Kinderhook Creek and the Hudson River. EPA Project Manager Ben Conetta stressed during the tour of the plant and at the meeting on March 3, that the water being released is tested for chemicals before going into the Kill and that there are either no detectable amounts of pollutants known to be in the industrial landfill or the amounts are well below the level that triggers further action.

 

“We are not releasing toxins into the water,” he told the audience in Kinderhook.

Mr. Conetta outlined the cleanup process for the water, which is pumped from wells in and near the landfill and sent through a multi-stage filtering and aeration system before being put into tanks where it is tested before being released. “Everything is being taken out,” he said.

Some people were not reassured. Audience members asked about contamination of the Kinderhook Lake, the safety of local wells, about certain chemicals still detected in the water, including one called 1, 4 dioxane, and why county officials were not told when the release of the treated water started in January.

The Dewey Loeffel landfill site, northeast of the Village of Nassau, was used to dump industrial waste from several companies between the early 1950s and the late-1960s. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) started testing and initial containment and cleanup of the site in the 1980s. According to the EPA website, the programs included the installation of a clay cap and a slurry wall at the landfill to keep the toxins at the site. Officials also began monitoring and maintaining residential well water treatment systems, and the off-site disposal of contaminated groundwater. Michael Komoroske, from the state DEC was at the Monday meeting, as well as representatives from the state Department of Health (DOH).

In 2011 the site was added to the federal Superfund list, and the EPA signed agreements with two of the companies responsible for the pollution, GE and SI Group, to pay for the cleanup. GE designed and built the water treatment facility, under EPA over site, and its contractor, Arcadis, is now staffing the facility.

Cleaning up the site is the long term plan, Mr. Conetta said, but more testing needs to be done. The EPA estimates it will take from two to five years before there is a plan for the cleanup of the site.

He also said the water treatment plant would continue operating for a long time. Eventually the water will be discharged through a pipe from the plant directly to the stream. Mr. Conetta said weekly and bi-weekly testing will still be done on the treated water when the EPA gets to the direct discharge stage in a few months. “We test for almost 170 chemicals,” he said.

One resident asked if the EPA would take samples of Kinderhook Lake now for testing, so the government has a baseline before more treated water is discharged. Mr. Conetta said that he would test the water in both the lake and the Valatie Kill and post the level of chemicals in on the EPA website.

A resident who owns a farm said that non-detectable levels were not reassuring to him when he uses the water on his organic crops and sells them to local families.

Mr. Conetta said the amount of water being released from the plant was about 7,000 gallons a day, compared to millions of gallons that flow through the Valatie Kill. He compared it to the amount what comes out of a garden hose.

Congressman Chris Gibson (R-19th), who lives in Kinderhook, mentioned chemical levels and 1,4 doixane, which does not yet have published safety standards for exposure. “We are not unreasonable, we just want standards,” said Mr. Gibson.

The congressman also asked for a health study to be conducted, which Mr. Conetta said the EPA could not do. He said that type of study would have to be done by the state DOH.

Peter Mannino, a remediation section chief for the EPA, said that on all the Superfund projects, of which he said there were between 70 to 100 in the state, the EPA does risk and health assessments. “Whatever work we do is protective of human health,” he told the group. Addressing public concerns about not knowing in advance about the release of water he said, “We are trying to be as transparent as possible.”
EPA officials have meet with officials and residents in Nassau for several years about the plan, but this is there first time they have come to in Columbia County to discuss the cleanup.

Larisa Romanowski, the local EPA Public Affairs Specialist, collected names at the meeting to add to her mailing list.
Mr. Conetta said that he would give tours to anyone interested in seeing the plant. Valatie Mayor Diane Argyle, who had taken the tour that afternoon said after the meeting, “I was impressed with the facility.” She also said the water treatment was “a start, a good start.”

Ed Simonsen, chair of the county’s Environmental Management Council, said that the EPA had answered the many questions from the council. He urged people to look at the data before judging the process. He said they needed to decide for themselves, “Is that low level low enough for you.” He also said, “We need to look to the future so we don’t have any more Dewey Loeffels.”

The EPA website with the information about the water treatment plant and a list of levels is at http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/dewey/.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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