By Jano Tantongco
The Sweet Hills Riding Center in West Hills County Park in Melville has been contaminated with “acutely hazardous” materials, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said at a press conference last Thursday.
On Aug. 26, Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone initially announced that the riding center was an active crime scene due to illegal dumping. He had previously said the materials did not appear to be harmful to horses, patrons or nearby residents.
Spota added that hundreds of tractor trailer loads of the contaminants were dumped throughout the vicinity of the riding center, averaging 3.5-6 feet deep, beginning in October 2015 and continuing through this past August. In some cases, fertilizer was laid on top to disguise the piles of waste, he added.
Further, he said the materials were finely processed to avoid detection. This made them especially dangerous since they can be easily inhaled in this form. The hazardous materials include Dieldrin, Aldrin, Heptachlor, Endrin, DBCP and Lindane. These chemical ranged from banned pesticides, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and asbestos.
“The name of the game here is pure greed. They don’t care about how dangerous this is to children, to the general public,” Spota said. “They’re motivated purely by money.”
Spota elaborated and said that to lawfully dispose of such materials at a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation facility costs between $1,500-$5,000 per truckload.
Sweet Hills Riding Center spokesman Mark Smith stated that for horses that were boarded there, their owners have found new locations for them. The rest of the horses have been relocated to the company’s other facility in North Great River.
“The Sweet Hills Riding Center, with a 30 year commitment to the equestrian community and families of Long Island, is continuing to cooperate in the ongoing investigation. This disturbing incident occurred without our knowledge or consent,” Smith stated in an email Monday.
He added the riding center would not comment further pending the active investigation.
Spota compared the case to the illegal dumping that occurred at Roberto Clemente Park in Islip in 2014.
“What’s so disturbing is that we found more acutely hazardous substances at the Sweet Hills Riding Center than were found at Clementi Park,” Spota said. “All of that area is Dieldrin and other acutely hazardous substances, right where those kids were eating.”
Spota said that the families of more than 70 children who attended the riding center’s camp have been notified of the situation.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that weak laws and greed have facilitated such an “atrocity.” She said the pesticides were particularly dangerous because they may cause headaches, vomiting and nervous disorders including paralysis.
“This is finely processed material, which means it will be very easily dust-borne,” she said.
South Huntington Water District Commissioner Paul Tonna said Monday that nearby Well No. 19 on Gwynne Road has been offline for the past 18 months and is not pumping water.
“It’s 1,000 percent clean,” he said, adding that the water district routinely monitors contaminant levels and has filtering processes more stringent than New York State standards.
Suffolk Legislator DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), presiding officer of the legislature, said the legislature must appeal to the state to advocate for stronger “cradle-to-grave” laws that would track such materials to ensure proper disposal.
“We have to ensure that this doesn’t happen again so our community is safe,” Gregory said.