Town Says Amagansett Soil Test Shows No Health Hazard

Straw placed on the farm field north of the Amagansett business district appears to be working in tandem with snow fencing to improve the "dust bowl" conditions there. Durell Godfrey

An analysis of the soil that blew off farm fields and blanketed commercial and residential areas of Amagansett this winter revealed no pesticides, according to a letter from the environmental remediation services provider contracted by East Hampton Town.

Meanwhile, the placement of straw atop the barren fields north of the hamlet’s municipal parking lot and installation of snow fencing to help keep it in place “has been successful at largely eliminating the swirling particulates that had caused concern,” according to a statement issued by the town on Friday.

The town board had arranged for the placement of straw and snow fencing after residents complained about “dust-bowl” conditions that they feared posed a health hazard. The straw, which was laid on the fields on Jan. 22, “has addressed the problem,” according to the statement.

“We share residents’ concerns about the recent dust storms in Amagansett,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said in the statement. “I am gratified that our agreed-upon solution appears to be working and am pleased that the town board was able to work together to achieve this result. We will continue to monitor the field conditions and take necessary actions to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

At the town board’s meeting on Tuesday, he reiterated that. “The dust has literally settled in Amagansett, for now. We hope that the straw and fencing will continue to stop that problem.”

The FPM Group collected soil samples from windblown dust piles in three locations, two on the north side of the parking lot and one from a public right of way traversing the field. Testing for a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation list of pesticides and metals, as recommended by the Suffolk County Health Department for agricultural properties, “indicate that no targeted pesticides were detected in any of the samples,” according to a letter from a senior hydrologist with the FPM Group to Michael Sendlenski, the town attorney.

Five metals — arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, and nickel — were detected in each of the samples, according to the letter, but at low concentrations, each below state standards. Results of the tests can be found on the town’s website. The presence of those metals, Mr. Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday, “are consistent with all farm fields in Suffolk County.”

On Jan. 14, residents crowded into the Amagansett Firehouse for a meeting of the hamlet’s citizens advisory committee, where they expressed concern for themselves and their children, not only about what the airborne particles might contain, but about the negative health effects of such small particulates filling the air.

Those concerns were taken to the town board’s meeting later that week. Mr. Van Scoyoc met with Barry Bistrian, whose family owns the field north of the parking lot; Peter Dankowski, the farmer who leases the land; Corey Humphrey, district manager of the County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Alex Balsam, a farmer and chairman of the town’s agricultural advisory committee, to develop a mitigation plan.

Straw was delivered to the fields, along with a bale-shredding machine, which Mr. Balsam lent for the effort, to disseminate it.

Dust conditions were particularly bad in Amagansett this winter because of the lack of a cover crop, for which an unusually wet harvest season was blamed. While Mr. Dankowski did plant a cover crop after harvesting potatoes, the crop did not take hold.

The dust prompted Organic Krush, a takeout shop on Main Street adjacent to the municipal parking lot, to close, its owners and management citing conditions that they said had sickened employees. The Amagansett School kept students indoors during recess on Jan. 11, and Seth Turner, the district superintendent, sent a letter to parents and guardians to address concerns about their children’s health. The school also held a special meeting to address parents’ concerns. Mr. Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday that air-quality testing conducted inside the school found no cause for concern.

The town board is considering legislation to codify the annual planting of a cover crop in response to this winter’s conditions. On Tuesday, Councilman Jeff Bragman said that he and NancyLynn Thiele, an assistant town attorney, have been “working on a law that would amend some portion of our code” to require that farmers contain soil onsite. “This is not a statute that restricts farming,” he said of such legislation. On the contrary, he said, it would protect farming.

This article has been updated since it was first published with the version that appeared in print on Feb. 7, 2019.