“Our quality of life has suffered for the past 10 years due to Long Island Compost. We’d like to enjoy our backyards once again but the odors and dust prevent us from doing that,” says Donna Cioffi, a resident who lives adjacent to the site.
Browning and Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Riverhead) sponsored legislation compelling the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to study the air quality at five composting operations in the county. Taking 797 air samples on 37 different days, between 2007 and 2009, researchers recorded the presence of odors, bioaerosols (bacteria and fungal spores), and particulate matter (smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) in the atmosphere. In June, a draft of the preliminary findings was sent to the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for comment. According to the report, odors were detected in 77.8 percent of the samples taken at Long Island Compost’s Great Gardens, compared to 25 percent of the samples taken at Brookhaven Town’s much smaller composting facility on Papermill Road in Manorville.
As the study duly noted, “composting can pose a nuisance.” Regarding health issues, the draft said, “At this time there is no apparent overt indication that there is an unusual number of cases or reports of illness connected with the several bacteria and fungus of concern in Suffolk County.”
Vigliotti, who called the preliminary study a “hatchet job,” took issue with the timing of its release. “For any town or county legislator to release that report to the public is disgraceful,” he says. “It’s an incomplete document.”
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The DEC hasn’t released its official response to the county’s study, a spokesman told the Press. But DEC staff did meet last month with the county’s health department to discuss it.
The state agency has already been monitoring Long Island Compost’s compliance with the law for several years. In 2007 the DEC fined the company $22,500 for various odor and emissions violations. And shortly before the study was released, the company was fined again for odor violations—this time $9,000.
On June 29, Browning joined Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Connie Kepert outside the Great Gardens’ entrance on Horseblock Road to draw attention to the study’s preliminary results. They also wanted to halt a proposal by Brookhaven Town Councilman Daniel Panico to close the town-run Papermill Road site because they said transferring roughly 3,000 tons of material from there to Long Island Compost would make the air-quality problems worse for neighbors.
“The problem with composting is the centralization,” Kepert says. “It’s difficult for anyone to operate a facility that’s not going to impact their neighbors when there’s that much compost in one area.”
At its July 20 meeting, the Brookhaven Town board decided to postpone its decision about closing its Papermill facility until an October meeting.
Panico insisted he wasn’t trying to pit Manorville against Yaphank, as some critics of his proposal complained. “I’m looking to save money,” he says, adding that shutting down the town’s operation would save Brookhaven $400,000 annually.
When a huge fire broke out at the Yaphank facility early in the morning on July 12, Long Island Compost made the news again. The conflagration started in a pile of logs, tree limbs and stumps left over from spring storms, Vigliotti says. He blamed the previous weeks of hot, dry weather for creating combustible conditions. He says some people were trying “to make it as big as the Chicago fire.” Production was interrupted for a day. Still, fire fighters from 22 departments were involved in controlling the blaze.
Since the facility opened 10 years ago, it was the first fire they’d ever had, Vigliotti says. This month the company plans to finish installing a DEC-mandated mister-system that will shoot water vapor in the air to keep dust and other particles down.
To Vigliotti, “the problems are land-use issues. Brookhaven has residential property located adjacent to industrial property,” he says. “Every single facet of what we do has been approved by the Town of Brookhaven.”
He says he found it “incredibly disingenuous” for Kepert to “be complaining about this legal operation.” And, he added, “I wish she would stop sending me solicitations to contribute to her campaign.” Indeed, as he was talking to the Press, he got an e-mail invitation to her August fundraiser. (The councilwoman later said that Vigliotti’s name was on a mailing list she “doesn’t review very often.”)
Despite the scrutiny, Vigliotti is passionately proud of his company. “We’ve been green from the beginning,” he says. “The 160 men and women of Long Island Compost who get up and go to work make a difference in the environment of Long Island every single day.”