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Cleanup at toxic wells progresses

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The city and state are nearly finished with the design element of a 10-year plan to clean up contaminated groundwater at the old West Side Corp. site in Jamaica, project engineers said last week.

But while the long-awaited cleanup at the former warehouse is moving forward, increased levels of the gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether, or MTBE, have been found in a closed well near Merrick Boulevard, said Donald Cohen, project engineer for Malcolm Pirnie, a consultant to the city Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have been working to remove chemical contaminants, including MTBE and dry cleaning chemicals, that seeped into the underground water supply from the West Side Corp. factory at 180th Street and 107th Avenue. The factory was used to store perchloroethylene, known as PERC, a dry cleaning chemical.

The cleanup 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.

The DEC plans to use a thermal injection technology, which would use an electrical current to heat the ground and evaporate the toxins, Cohen told a meeting of the citizen's advisory committee for the Brooklyn-Queens Aquifer study last Thursday. The design is about 95 percent complete

"We will be ready to bid out the project soon," he said. Work could begin on the cleanup this fall.

The city and state have also reached agreements with the property owner and the Atlantic Bus Company, which now uses the site as a depot, Cohen said. The deals allow the clean-up crews to enter the property to remove the contaminants, he said.

But there is also concern that another cleanup may be necessary at a closed well at Merrick Boulevard and 108th Avenue, Cohen said. The well is part of a pilot testing program to remove natural contaminants, such as iron and manganese, from about four wells in Jamaica.

Through testing connected with the pilot program, the DEP saw MTBE levels spike from about eight to 10 parts per billion about two years ago to 350 parts per billion in January, Cohen said.

The jump in levels may indicate recent contamination, said Paul Lioy, a member of the committee's scientific review panel.

"If you're seeing an increase like that, it suggests an active source," he said. "Either one big spill occurred or a tank is leaking and a crack is getting bigger."

Malcolm Pirnie will be working with the state to determine the source, which could be linked to gas stations on Merrick Boulevard, Cohen said. The agencies will also prioritize that well for cleanup, he said.

"We're going to push them very, very hard to get them out to those sites so we don't let these sites get out of control," he said.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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