CB 12 knocks city’s plan to reopen Jamaica wells

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Members of Community Board 12 and Jamaica residents reacted with skepticism last week to the city Department of Environmental Protection’s plan to open up two Jamaica wells as part of a pilot project to explore adding local groundwater to Queens’ drinking supply.

The ultimate goal of the six-month pilot project is to purify Jamaica well water and to determine whether it is possible to integrate it into the borough system. Up until 1996 southeast Queens relied on Jamaica Water Supply Co., a private concern, for its water needs.

A key element of the plan would involve pumping out groundwater contaminated by dry cleaning chemicals at the former West Site Corp. factory at 107-10 180th St. in Jamaica. The site is currently used by the Atlantic Bus Company to store school buses.

Many of Jamaica’s wells, then controlled by Jamaica Water Supply, were closed in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of the contamination.

At Community Board 12’s meeting Nov. 14 that drew nearly 200 people, representatives from the DEP outlined the Brooklyn-Queens Aquifer Study, a plan to eventually add 100 million to 200 million gallons of water per day to the city’s drinking water system.

Several local residents, including a biologist, Dr. Dhanonjoy Saha, asked the DEP representatives if they could ensure that the drinking water would be safe.

“Hypothetic­ally, even if you clean up 99.9 percent [of the contaminants], would the 0.1 percent remaining be enough to be concerned?” Saha asked the DEP.

His question was not answered. But Donald Cohen, a senior associate at Malcolm Pirnie, an independent consulting firm hired by the city to help with the aquifer project, later said he was prepared to vouch for the filtration plan proposed by the DEP. He said the water it would produce would be safe.

City Councilman-elect Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) scolded the DEP for “not doing their homework.” He and the community board leaders asked why other contaminated sites in Jamaica, such as the MTA bus depot on Liberty Avenue, were not considered when the plan to open the wells was developed.

The plum of contaminated groundwater stretches about a quarter of a mile southeast of the former West Side dry-cleaning factory, but pumping at a well adjacent to the contaminated site would keep the contaminants from spreading, said Cohen.

Once the highly contaminated water is pumped out, it will be treated and released into the sewer system, Cohen said. One benefit of the pumping would be to reduce the periodic flooding that inundates that part of Jamaica.

Three quarters of a mile away, at Station 6 at 110th Avenue at 164th Place, cleaner water will be pumped out starting in February and tested. At this point, it will not be integrated into the drinking water supply.

Results from the pilot project will determine how the city agency proceeds with the next step of its plan to build a water treatment plant at Station 6 in 2003. If all goes according to the DEP’s plan, Jamaica water will eventually be mixed with water from upstate New York and added to the borough’s drinking water supply. Then the aquifer project will expand across Queens and Brooklyn.

Douglas Greeley, deputy commissioner of the water and sewer operations bureau of the DEP, promised to have more information at the DEP’s next public meeting on Tues., Nov. 27, at 7 p.m. It will be held at York College’s Academic Core Building, Room 3D01, 94-20 Guy R. Brewer Blvd. in Jamaica.

CB 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick said after the meeting that she thought the DEP had underestimated the community and therefore was unprepared to answer many questions.

“It’s just so much for one community to comprehend when it all seems to be happening at the same time,” Reddick said of the contaminated sites and aquifer project. “I can understand why the community is angry.”

The West Side Corp. used the 180th Street site as a storage and distribution center for dry cleaning chemicals from 1969 to 1990. Five 10,000 gallon above-ground storage tanks were used to store the chemicals, including tetrachlor­oethylene, otherwise known as PCE or PERC, the DEP said.

The storage tins leaked, contaminating the ground soil, and the chemicals seeped into the lower layers of soil where groundwater flows, Cohen said.

After starting studies last year to determine the best way to handle the contamination, the state Department of Environmental Conservation ran out of money in March and was unable to carry out the soil cleanup.

In another developmemt, the state Health Department announced in August 2000 that a section of the agency, the Center for Environmental Health, would conduct a cancer surveillance program to determine if any unusual patterns had developed.

The results of this study have not yet been released and community members have begun to wonder how long they will have to wait, Saha said.

In response to community concerns, Saha recently teamed up with state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) and Manuel Caughman, president of the Brinkerhoff Action Association, to conduct an independent cancer study. The project is currently in the development phase.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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