BY MICHAEL RICONDA
New City – Attorney and local activist John J. Tormey III is ringing alarm bells about elevated arsenic levels in one of United Water’s Monsey wells.
His concern was explored in a discussion of the County Legislature Environmental Committee on November 13. Tormey, who made a name for himself opposing FAA plans to increase low-flying air traffic over Rockland five years ago, told the committee one of United Water’s wells in Monsey exhibited elevated arsenic levels from the summer of 2012 into early 2013.
According to Tormey, United Water is not obligated to report elevated arsenic levels to the general public if they are not above the national limit. To gain access to the records, he had to issue a Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) request to the Rockland County Department of Health.
“I shouldn’t have to be the first one to post this stuff on the internet,” Tormey explained.
The legislature has initiated an inquiry into the incident and why it was not more widely known, seeking information from both the Department of Health and United Water New York Vice President and General Manager Michael Pointing, who was unable to attend and will discuss the matter with the committee at a later date.
The well-in-question, Monsey Well 31A, is located on the south side of Route 59 and is part of a small, independent water system consisting of two wells and one tank. Activated carbon is used in these wells to absorb contaminants such as arsenic and purify the water.
In 2012, the activated carbon in the Monsey well was scheduled for replacement. As per routine sampling, a June 21 test revealed the well had 26.6 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic, well over the running annual average.
In response, United Water reported the incident to the county Department of Health. The DoH had UW resample the location again on June 29, when the reading came in at 4.7ppb.
“At that point it was well below the standard,” Rockland Director of Environmental Health Judi Hunderfund said.
Samples throughout late 2012 showed elevated but decreasing arsenic levels, but triggered no legally-required public notifications because levels were still under the accepted average. By the summer of 2013, the arsenic levels were low enough that two samples turned up no trace of the chemical.
Though United Water appeared to fulfill its legal obligations, legislators remained concerned over the fact that only one local notification was sent out levels remained slightly elevated for months. ? pointed out that customers were notified about the elevated levels in May 2013, but Wolfe questioned whether the notification was adequate to raise awareness of the issue.
“This is of some concern,” Legislator Alden Wolfe said. “It went on for some time.”
Further discussion on the well is likely in the legislature as representatives such as Leg. Phil Soskin called for action items addressing that particular well and other water sources under United Water’s control.
This is not the first instance of elevated arsenic levels in Rockland. In 2007, a similar incident occurred in West Nyack when a reading of 4.7ppb was made at the location of a planned test well on Strawtown Road. That well plan was never pursued.
United Water’s issues with contaminated water are not limited to Rockland’s wells, either. In May of 2012, they were forced to pay a $40,000 settlement for violating state conservation law regarding the use of copper sulfate as a pesticide in Clarkstown’s Lake DeForest reservoir.
Recently, United Water was also issued a violation by the Department of Health for elevated water turbidity at Lake DeForest in July.