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Save the Sound report: Significant gaps in Plum Island cleanup

A report commissioned by Save the Sound has identified what the group describes as significant gaps in the federal government’s draft plan for the cleanup of past contamination on Plum Island.

Save the Sound is a Connecticut environmental organization dedicated to protecting the land, air and water in Connecticut and Long Island Sound. The group hired hydrogeologist Peter Dermody of Dermody Consulting in Center Moriches to analyze environmental studies performed on the island from 1999 to 2016.

The federally owned island, home to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, has been for sale since 2013, as the Department of Homeland Security plans to build a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Kansas and move its operations there.

“We know that there are dozens of areas throughout the island where waste materials were landfilled and partial investigations were performed,” Mr. Dermody said in a press release. “However, the investigations were not in compliance with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation landfill regulations or the New York State Department of Health soil vapor intrusion guidance.”

He said he had questions about groundwater testing, soil vapor testing, landfills and oil spills, as well as the status of a decommissioned building.

In 2013, after the 840-acre island was put up for sale, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent Homeland Security a letter requesting it propose a work plan to address the remaining issues there and implement a site-wide groundwater initiative. In November, Homeland Security provided the DEC with a document entitled

“After Action Report for Addressing Data Gaps at Former WMAs [waste management areas] and AOPCs [areas of potential concern], Plum Island Animal Disease Center.” That document has not yet been made public, according to a press release from Save the Sound.

In August, Democratic senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut announced the Plum Island Conservation Act, which would repeal laws passed in 2009 and 2012 that originally allowed the federal effort to sell the island to the highest bidder.

“There’s a disturbing disconnect here between the federal agencies,” said Louise Harrison, New York natural areas coordinator for Save the Sound. “The General Services Administration is pushing forward to sell the island while Homeland Security is dragging its feet on the plan to clean it up. We’re concerned that this extended delay and drawn-out process will further stretch DEC’s already strained resources.”

Dermody Consulting identified several key actions to be taken, including continued groundwater sampling, sampling at landfill sites and testing of soil samples for volatile organic compounds, among others.

“DEC continues to oversee the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration as they undertake the necessary investigations and cleanup of contamination on Plum Island,” DEC regional director Carrie Meek Gallagher said. “DEC is currently reviewing a required after-action report and the data presented will guide further cleanup actions on the island. The state will continue to hold federal Homeland Security staff and contractors accountable for implementing the most effective multi-media investigation and remediation work necessary.”

Ms. Harrison is asking Homeland Security and New York State to agree on a comprehensive work plan so the federal government can get started on a full cleanup that meets the state’s standards. She also said Save the Sound would like 80 percent of the island preserved for wildlife.

“Everyone wants Plum Island cleaned up for the multitude of species that call it home and the people who visit and do research there,” Ms. Harrison said. “And it benefits everyone to dispense with contamination rumors and instead get the facts.”

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Photo credit: Plum Island Lighthouse. (Credit: File photo)