Lying in his window-side hospital bed at South Nassau Communities Hospital, Harbor Isle resident Michael Ostrander at-tempted to update his neighbors on Facebook about his condition.
“I have been sick for more than three weeks with what I thought was just a common cold, but it just won’t go away,” he wrote.
Ostrander suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, he said, a lung ailment that causes difficulty breathing, but it had not been a problem for more than 20 years.
“My lung doctor seems to think there’s a possibility that there are toxins in the air emanating from the property,” he continued, “which is what has made my infection worse and very hard to treat.”
The property in question is an 11.6-acre plot on the southern tip of Harbor Isle that, starting in the 1940s, housed a Cibro Petroleum oil-storage terminal — resulting in soil and groundwater contamination — until Cibro de-clared bankruptcy in 1988, according to the State De-partment of Environmental Conservation.
Since then, however, the site has remained vacant, as efforts to develop the property by the Farmingdale-based Posillico Development Company — which purchased it in 1999 — remained in legal limbo after being blocked by the Town of Hempstead until 2016, when a state appellate division judge gave Posillico the go-ahead.
But first, the site must be cleaned up.
Responding to a Herald inquiry, State DEC officials said that, under their oversight, Posillico’s preparations to clean the soil have begun, and that the initial cleanup work is slated for mid-October. Any contaminated soil must be covered in plastic, and all trucks leaving the area will be washed to ensure that contaminated mud does not end up on neighboring streets.
A visit to the site last Friday, however, showed that a rainstorm the previous evening had created mud with the rainbow tint of oil, which had run off the site into neighboring streets. Posillico workers were seen trying to clean the mud with brooms, shovels and a street sweeper.
Standing nearby, Harbor Isle resident Holly Rivera said she had watched the workers doing this for two hours.
“We have days when it’s like a rainbow in our street,” she said of the oil. “I have to wash off our dogs’ paws every time they come in the house.”
Rivera said she had been looking after Ostrander’s home while he remained in the hospital, noting that surfaces in the house such as tables and counters were constantly covered in dust that she believed had come from the site.
Ostrander, who lives next to the property, said that more dust was stirred up over the past four months as work got underway. He said his doctors told him that this could have contributed to his condition.
The dust appears to blow farther than neighboring Harbor Isle residents’ property, also settling to the east, across the Island Park Channel.
“We have to keep our windows closed because of the dirt that’s blown our way,” Toni Egan wrote in response to one of Ostrander’s updates.
DEC officials reported that in order to suppress and monitor dust, sprinkler systems have been installed, and that air-monitoring devices were also placed on the site. Additionally, the State Department of Health will periodically review air-monitoring results.
A Health Department spokeswoman confirmed that her agency was investigating Ostrander’s claim, and was looking into the area’s air.
Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito said he was limited in what he could do to address possible air contamination, but added that his office had issued a temporary stop-work order three weeks ago to Posillico to ensure the work was following town regulations.
“We can only control it as far as town code,” he said, adding that he was preparing a letter to Harbor Isle residents to update them on the cleanup effort as well as the apartment complex that is slated to be built on the site.
Additionally, in response to complaints of possible toxic runoff from the site due to rainwater, D’Esposito said that the Town’s Department of Conservation and Waterways was monitoring the surrounding seawater, and that so far no major contamination had been detected.
A representative of Posillico could not be reached for comment as of press time on Monday. The company is currently in contract with AvalonBay Communities to develop the site into a rental apartments.
Ostrander he expressed hope that his condition was unrelated to the property, writing to fellow Harbor Isle residents, “Ironically, I hope I am wrong for my health, and the health of my fellow neighbors and friends.”