Today’s news:

Jamaica water cleanup feared problematic

With progress slowly continuing on the city’s plan to clean the contaminated groundwater at the old West Side Corp. site, southeast Queens residents are concerned about the condition of their sewer systems, which will be used to pump the dirty water out of the area.

The sewers may not be able to safely carry the water to Jamaica Bay during the course of the 10-year treatment plan, and poor connections may allow contaminants to seep back into the ground, said Debora Hunte, a member of the citizens’ advisory committee for the Brooklyn-Queens Aquifer study. The water will be pumped through the sewers as waste water and not used for human consumption.

Hunte spoke at the citizens’ advisory committee’s monthly meeting last Thursday.

The committee is reviewing the plan from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection to clean the site in Jamaica of contaminants from dry cleaning chemicals and gasoline additives. The factory at the site was used to store industrial chemicals, such as perchloroethylene, known as PERC, and methyl tert-butyl ether, known as MTBE.

The DEP has been working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on the cleanup, and it is waiting for the state agency to decide on a treatment method before it can continue, said Donald Cohen, project coordinator with DEP consultant Malcolm Pirnie Inc. In addition to treating the water, the plan calls for new wells to be drilled on the site to pump out the dirty water and monitor the contamination levels, he said.

Once the cleanup begins, the water will be pumped out to Jamaica Bay through the sewer systems, Cohen said, but residents are concerned the water will seep back into the ground. The DEP plans to replace a two-block section of 12-inch pipes on 177th Street, which will connect with the larger 48-inch water main along 110th Avenue, but Hunte is concerned that that will not be sufficient.

“I think that’s going to be hard to sell to the community because it’s not addressing the problem,” Hunte said. “That’s not going to prevent any of that water from coming back into our basins.”

The problem is catch basins and pipe connections that were not fitted properly, said committee member Manuel Caughman. Although there are no plans for other repairs, the DEP will be monitoring the sewer system, Cohen said.

“We have to look at it and make sure we don’t have any problems,” Cohen said. “We’re not going to put any water into sewers that can’t handle it.”

Bill Yulinsky, director of environmental health and safety for the DEP, added that the agency is looking to improve a bad situation at the West Side Corp. site.

“The DEP is here to do a good thing in cleaning up the West Side site,” Yulinsky said. “We’re certainly not looking to make anything worse in the neighborhood.”

But residents were still skeptical.

“It’s complicated and we’re just going to have to keep on top of this,” Caughman said.

The committee also discussed forming a scientific review panel, a group of scientists and engineers to be the committee’s on-call team to confirm, explain or refute the DEP’s findings.

“They will, in a sense, be your quality control over our processes,” Yulinsky said.

The panel will include about eight experts in fields such as chemistry, chemical and civil engineering, hydrogeology, public health and risk assessment. The committee formed smaller groups, which will collect and review resumes and report back with suggestions at the next regular meeting in September.

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

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