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Well clean-up plan moves at slow drip

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The project to clean up contaminated water wells at the old West Side Corp. factory site in Jamaica is several months behind schedule after the first attempt to purify the supply failed, a state agency said last week.

Despite the setback, the project is moving ahead with a new well set to be drilled next month and a new cleaning method to be tested, said Andrew English, an environmental engineer for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. He spoke at a meeting last Thursday of the citizen’s advisory committee for the Brooklyn-Queens Aquifer study.

The project’s goal is to remove chemical contaminants, including gasoline additives and dry cleaning chemicals that seeped into the underground water supply from the factory.

The clean-up project could take 10 years, and the water will be not be added to the drinking supply until its quality is approved by the state Department of Health, English said.

The community is eager to have the water cleaned at the West Side Corp. site, which used to house a factory where dry cleaning chemicals, including methyl tert-butyl ether known as MTBE and perchloroethylene known as PERC, were stored, English said. The chemicals seeped into the groundwater and some residents attribute high rates of cancer in the area to the contamination.

The committee also discussed the drought emergency and the city’s plan to reactivate wells from the Jamaica Water Supply system that were closed due to disrepair.

The city Department of Environmental Preservation has about 13 wells online pumping water into the city’s drinking supply and hopes to add another 13 by July, pending repairs and Department of Health approval, said Bill Yulinsky, director of environmental health and safety for the DEP. These wells are free of chemical contaminants, he said.

The state’s reservoir levels are at about 70 percent of capacity, said Douglas Greeley, deputy commissioner for the DEP. Normally at this time of year the levels should be close to 100 percent, he said.

The drought problems and the wells slated for reactivation are separate issues from the cleanup of the West Side Corp. site and testing that is going on at a well site in Jamaica known as Station 6. High levels of mineral compounds like iron and manganese have been found at Station 6.

The cleanup and testing are part of a city DEP study that was planned before the state’s reservoir levels dropped and aimed at cleaning the wells that were contaminated when the city bought them in 1996 from privately held Jamaica Water Supply.

The cleanup at the West Side Corp. site will require the drilling of a new well on the site, which could start as early as mid-June, English said.

The first attempt at cleaning the well used chemicals that were put into the groundwater to add oxygen to the contaminants, changing their chemical structure, English said.

The contaminants were not completely removed, English said.

“The results were mediocre,” English said. “We could have continued with that process, but when we looked at the data, we weren’t satisfied.”

To better remove the chemicals, the DEC is planning to try a method of injecting steam into the ground to boil off the contaminated water, English said. He hopes to have a recommendation for the DEP by June, and the design could be complete by the spring, he said.

But the committee is anxious for the cleanup to begin, and many were annoyed with the setback.

“We don’t know when to believe or feel confident when something’s going to happen,” said committee member Kenneth Gill.

The committee was also upset with the drought emergency plan, specifically the lack of notification before the DEP brings the wells online.

“There is none,” said Mark Lanaghan of a DEP notification plan. “However, that’s one of the reasons this committee is here.”

Some felt that responsibility as a burden.

“We’re sitting here as the citizen’s advisory committee for the Brooklyn Queens Aquifer study,” said Linda Caleb Hazel. “Now we’re told we’re responsible for helping to implement the drought emergency plan.”

In addition to the 13 wells the DEP might open this summer should the drought worsen, there are about nine wells that need extensive repairs and treatment before they could be brought on-line, Greeley said.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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