Prepping to de-pollute the Hewlett plume

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In 1991 the Environmental Protection Agency discovered the carcinogenic chemicals tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene had leached into the groundwater plume located under Peninsula Boulevard near Woodmere Middle School in Hewlett.

In 2004 it was listed on the EPA’s Superfund list. The project began in 2011 when they pumped the polluted groundwater to the surface to be treated; that phase cost $21.5 million. In September of last year, the federal agency announced phase two, which is expected to cost $24.7 million.

The EPA is currently designing phase two, which will address the source of the contamination. The agency decided that the best course of action would be to inject the groundwater with non-hazardous additives that would break down the contaminants into vapors that they would then extract, “Now that cleanup options have been selected,” said EPA spokesman, David Kluesner. “The next step is to design and implement the cleanups.”

Kluesner said that the start date for the next phase of the operation may be dependent on their ability to hold the owner of the former Grove Cleaners at 174 Peninsula Blvd., in Hewlett, financially responsible. According to the EPA, this was the site where the contamination originated. “The timing of the start of cleanup depends on the outcome of potential negotiations with the potentially responsible parties,” he said. “And/or the prioritization of cleanup funds for this project should the private parties not agree to pay for or perform the cleanup.”  

The funds for the project, assuming the agency cannot hold the owners of the now-gone dry cleaners to cover the costs, would come from EPA’s Superfund treasury. The Superfund exists to give the agency the capital and the authority to clean-up contaminated sites when there is no viable responsible party.

At a community meeting at the Hewlett Fire House in June of 2017, Gloria Sosa, the project manager, said she didn’t expect the actual work to begin until 2019 as the design phase typically takes anywhere between 18 and 24 months. Sosa confirmed that things had not changed since then, and that is still the expected timeline.

While both PCE and TCE are carcinogens, if ingested at even a fraction of the level that the EPA detected at the site, however, the area’s drinking water comes from a well 1,00 feet north of the site, which is also regularly monitored for contamination.

There has not been another community meeting scheduled yet, but Kluesner said that there will be another one at some point during this planning phase. In the meantime, for more information visit epa.gov/superfund/peninsula-groundwater.

Have an opinion on the Hewlett plume? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.