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NYS designates another Superfund site in Nassau

 A Superfund site has been designated on Rt. 203 in the town of Nassau, NY.
Town of Nassau
A Superfund site has been designated on Rt. 203 in the town of Nassau, NY.

New York state has designated another Superfund site in the Rensselaer County town of Nassau. The Class 2 label indicates the presence of hazardous waste or its components represents a threat to public health or the environment. Town Supervisor David Fleming says the 8.4-acre plot on Route 203 near Chatham has been under investigation by multiple agencies since 2018 and is connected to the Dewey Loeffell Landfill Superfund site about 5 miles away. He said Wednesday it’s thought trucks from the landfill were washed out on private property.

"The Superfund sites impact not just Nassau, but the region," Fleming said. "The tributaries that are impacted go directly into the Hudson River. The pollution that leaves the site does not leave Nassau to go to Nassau. It leaves this horrible, toxic waste site - 46,000 tons of toxic waste - twice the size of the infamous Love Canal. The waste is leaving through Little Thunder Brook and in the groundwater and it's getting into the tributary system that serves residents down the Hudson Valley."

Fleming says the new classification will provide additional resources to remediate the contamination.

In a tweet Wednesday, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commission Basil Seggos said the “designation of the Route 203 site provides us a powerful tool to help clean up the site once and for good.”

Nassau Town Supervisor David Fleming speaks with WAMC's Lucas Willard
Nassau Town Supervisor David Fleming speaks with WAMC's Lucas Willard

On Thursday, WAMC's Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard spoke with Fleming. Their interview is transcribed below:

David Fleming: I have to commend the EPA team, we're really doing a serious investigation here all sorts of, you know, talked about ground penetrating radar, we had soil samples, water samples, they tested areas outside the site that we had requested. And then we went forward. And the test continued. And what became clear since 2018, the, you know, late 2018, when this was discovered residents in the area were notified is that this site, which is only 8.4 acres, and I say only, you know, we're looking at Loeffel that's impacted 1400 acres of the Capital Region, that the site posed serious problems because of these underground tanks that had to be addressed immediately. Additionally, there were longer term cleanup needs related to a pond that's on the site, sediment contamination, those sorts of things, which require a longer-term cleanup. And in discussions with agencies, the EPA DOH and DEC, in recent months, it became quite clear that EPA is ready to move in quickly and do their emergency remediation actions relating to these underground storage tanks and carcasses of these barrels. But that the state Superfund site powers are easier and more nimble to implement in this kind of a situation. And so the state has decided, in the best interest of our community, I think, to move forward with a state Superfund designation. And that means that they'll be working with DOH and EPA to do the immediate remediation actions under EPA authority as well as the longer term actions under the state Superfund program. And I think that's extremely important. And something that is going to require a significant amount of coordination.

Lucas Willard: So this site, as you've mentioned, the site's been under investigation since 2018. This state Superfund designation now comes in 2021. And I know that the DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and you have had a good working relationship. I know that he toured the Little Thunder Brook restoration that got washed out over the summer. Do you think that that working relationship has had an impact in moving the Superfund designation along?

David Fleming: I think the easy answer is yes. I've had a number of conversations with the commissioner over the last few years, about Loeffel and about its impacts. He's toured the site, he spent two hours in the woods with me hiking around a, you know, hot summer day, following the devastation of the July storms in my community. I think he understands. He and his team understand that there has not been a great history here. And it's not with the state. And it's not just with the state. And it's not just with the feds, it's been 70 years of problems with failed remediation at the Loeffel site. And, you know, our conversations at the beginning have always been about we are going to do this one, right. And we're going to have to work together to do this right. And I think that's about coordination. I think it's about understanding. And it's about trying to put some of the bad history that we haven't failed remediation in our community 70 years of failed remediation related to Loeffel and working together to make a difference here. And I'm hoping that that continues. And does it take important partners like the commissioner, who understand the impacts to our community? Absolutely. It also takes partnership with elected officials, Republicans or Democrats at every level of government, to work together to continue the pressure in the specific areas that we need the pressure be on the federal level, or the state level. And Nassau is in a place that we've never been before, which is we have Republicans and Democrats at every level of government working with us and our regulators who have been tremendously supportive. And I think not that we are forgetting our past of the problems that we faced, but that we're looking to build a better future not just for my community right now, but for future generations.

Lucas Willard: So the little Thunder Brook restoration, which was damaged in July by those July storms, and then further damaged by Hurricane Ida, has there been any conversation about reassessing how to move forward with that restoration?

David Fleming: And actually, the night before this designation? Obviously, just the other day, we met with EPA, and they provided a community briefing with our community advisory group, so elected officials as well as community members and activists. And we discussed the status of little Thunder Brook and how we're going to move forward and sadly the This is a situation where we're literally going to have to start over. Many of the testing points that we relied on for clean out of high levels of PCB are frankly gone, they're been washed away. And that means we have new sites along the Little Thunder Brook and Valatie Kill that are impacted by PCBs, Commissioner Seggos and I were touring the site just after the first storm. And the outflow from Little Thunder Brook, a little tiny delta had been moved 60 feet. And the sediment deposits laden with PCB high level PCB contamination were four and a half to five feet high in the areas where there previously had been a little tiny stream running through. And when you look through the woods, you can literally see acres of sediment and fine grained sediment deposits. And as we know, from Loeffel, these PCBs tend to cling to these fine grained sediments, which means I think we have an even more significant impact from the Loeffel site, to more property around the Dewey Loeffel site. So we're really we're gonna have to start over and it's incredibly frustrating. And that's what you know, we've been trying to explain to folks for a while is that the testing is going to lead the cleanup. It's important we move forward with testing as quickly as possible, the science has to lead here, you have to know. It's literally like cancer surgery, if you're doing if you have a brain tumor, you've got to figure out exactly where the tumor is to exercise it, and, you know, keep as much good tissue as possible. And that's what we're dealing with here. We have an absolutely beautiful community that is just resplendent and natural resources and recreational opportunities completely scarred by no choice of ours, by corporate greed and government incompetence for 70 years. I think today, we have a real opportunity to make a difference by all working together, remembering our past, but focusing on a future where we can work together and get this done as quickly as possible.

Lucas Willard: And just one more question, Dave, I know that the big conversation right now is infrastructure. Would that be made available? Has Nassau explored the possibility of utilizing infrastructure dollars to address contamination?

David Fleming: Yeah, we have actually been exploring that with Congressman Tonko and Congressman Delgado. In particular, we absolutely and desperately need a water system to get to all of these areas that have been impacted by local, we have a situation where 1400 acres of property has been damaged, where people are on water filtration systems. That is not a way to live that you'd have no idea what's coming through the faucet in your in your kitchen. Or if you have vaporization of volatile chemicals in your shower, we need to make sure that these families get clean drinking water, and one of the most important things we can do is expand an already existing water systems in Schodack and Nassau to get to these families. And frankly, it's also an economic development concern because we have many properties that have been depreciated because they're contaminated, which means that impacts taxes so it doesn't just impact the residents of our area, it impacts residents of the entire region who are picking up that tax differential. And frankly, these families who invested everything in their property and their homes and care about the safety of their children deserve the ability to turn on their sink and get fresh, clean water.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.