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Few tests done at toxic sites after superstorm

KEVIN BEGOS

Published: Sunday, Dec. 23 2012 1:51 p.m. MST

"My concern is twofold. One is, a storm like that surely moved some of that material physically to other places, I would think," Fillippeli said. "If they don't cap that or seal it or clean it up, arsenic will continue to make its way slowly into groundwater and lead will be distributed around the neighborhood."

The lack of testing has left some residents with lingering worries.

The Raritan Bay Slag site sits on the beach overlooking a placid harbor with a view of Staten Island. On a recent foggy morning workers were hauling out debris, and some nearby residents wondered whether the superstorm increased or spread the amount of pollution at the site.

"I think it brought a lot of crud in from what's out there," said Elise Pelletier, whose small bungalow sits on a hill overlooking the Raritan Bay Slag site. "You don't know what came in from the water." Her street did not flood because it is up high, but she worries about a park below where people go fishing and walk their dogs. She would like to see more testing done.

Thomas Burke, an associate dean at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, says both federal and state officials generally have a good handle on the major Superfund sites, which often use caps and walls to contain pollution.

"They are designed to hold up," Burke said of such structures, but added that "you always have to be concerned that an unusual event can spread things around in the environment." Burke noted that the storm brought in a "tremendous amount" of water, raising the possibility that groundwater plumes could have changed.

"There really have to be evaluations" of communities near the Superfund sites, he said. "It's important to take a look."

Officials in both New York and New Jersey note they've also been monitoring less toxic sites known as brownfields, and haven't found major problems. The New York DEC said in a statement that brownfields in that state "were not significantly impacted" and that they don't plan further tests for storm impacts.

Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency has done visual inspections of major brownfield sites and also alerted towns and cities to be on the lookout for problems. Ragonese said they just aren't getting calls voicing such concerns.

Back at the Raritan Bay slag site, some residents want more information. And they want the toxic soil, which has sat here for years, out.

Pat Churchill, who was walking her dog in the park along the water, said she's still worried.

"There are unanswered questions. You can't tell me this is all contained. It has to move around," Churchill said.

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