At least one "unscrupulous contractor" was responsible for high levels of asbestos left in an estimated 32,000 tons of debris dumped at an Islip Town park in Brentwood, Suffolk County's top prosecutor said Tuesday.
Initial sampling from the surface at Roberto Clemente Park confirmed components of the debris include asbestos-containing materials -- some pieces of which contained asbestos concentrations as high as 44 percent, District Attorney Thomas Spota said.
The presence of the "dangerous contaminant" on the surface requires extensive sampling to determine if there's more below.
Tests will also determine if the fill contains other toxic material, such as petroleum products or heavy metals, Spota added. Results of the full analysis may not come before early June.
"It's becoming clearer and clearer by the day that an environmental nightmare is unfolding in Roberto Clemente Islip Town park, and that this calamity has occurred because of the greed and avarice of at least one unscrupulous contractor seeking to make money by illegally disposing of toxic waste, avoiding the significantly higher cost of safe disposal," Spota said at a news conference in Hauppauge.
Spota declined to name a contractor at the news conference but said the appearance of investigators at the corporate offices of "Datre/Daytree" in Ronkonkoma Tuesday was related to the dumping investigation.
Officers were seen photographing heavy construction equipment and trucks -- some of which bore the name "Datre" or "Town of Islip Contractor" and searching the offices.
Attempts to reach a Datre spokesman were unsuccessful.
Spota's announcement came the same day town officials announced that Joseph Montuori, the Islip Town parks commissioner, had been forced to resign as result of the probe.
The dumping appeared to have begun after a local church, Iglesia de Jesucristo Palabra Miel, asked the town for permission to fix some holes in the soccer fields, Spota said. Congregants contributed their "hard-earned money" and labor but ran out of resources to complete the project, he said, then sought modest donations of soil to finish their renovations.
Unidentified individuals "convinced the church they'd bring in some soil to help," Spota said. "In reality, those individuals saw an opportunity to conduct illegal dumping."
The park's two soccer fields were raised 3 feet from the original grade, and an adjacent sump area, which had been 25 feet deep, was filled in, he said. The debris at the park measured an estimated 32,000 tons -- some of it originated from New York City, some from Long Island, prosecutors said.
"All of this was done with careless disregard for the potential risk to the health and well-being of people who used the park, as well as those driving the truckloads in and out of the park itself . . ." Spota said. "When this type of debris is crushed by heavy equipment or subjected to cutting and grinding by machinery, it becomes subject to strict environmental regulation for disposal because of the threat of fine asbestos particles, which can become airborne and then are highly hazardous."
Church members witnessed truckloads of fill arriving that contained chunks of broken debris and pleaded with the dumpers to stop, complaining repeatedly to town employees, Spota said, "who insisted everything was all right."
Two prosecutors have been assigned to the case: one from the economic crime bureau who will handle the environmental investigation side of the case and another from the government corruption bureau. "We want to find out who, if anybody in town knew there was illegal dumping," Spota said.
Glenn Neuschwender, president of Enviroscience Consultants, said the EPA defines material as "asbestos-containing" if the concentration is greater than 1 percent. The Ronkonkoma firm will carry out the sampling for the district attorney's office, sources said.
The town board learned Monday, during a meeting with Spota that "hazardous construction and demolition debris and materials" had been found at the park, Islip Town Councilman Anthony Senft said.
"This debris was placed illegally without the permission of the Town of Islip by one or more contractors who were hired by a local community organization to construct soccer fields," Senft said at a news conference Tuesday outside the park's locked gates.
Senft said permits had been issued by the town's planning department and that "regular inspections" were done by Town of Islip personnel.
At Tuesday's Islip Town Board meeting, the board unanimously appointed Thomas Owens, Islip's commissioner for public works, to head Islip's parks department. The move came hours after Montuori was forced to resign.
"The town conducted its own internal review," Senft said. "As a result, we sought and successfully received the resignation of the commissioner of our parks department, and we anticipate additional changes as our internal investigation continues."
Montuori and his executive assistant, Brett Robinson, were questioned Monday by detectives from the district attorney's office for as long as six hours, sources said.
Montuori, appointed by the town board in January 2012, did not respond to a request for comment. Robinson still holds his town position, officials said.
The dumping began as early as last June, and on March 24 investigators observed 48 truckloads dumped at the park, Spota said.
Previously, mounds of soil filled with rebar were cleared by the town in late January after complaints were lodged by area residents.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation concluded the debris-filled dirt cleared in January had been "stored" at the park and was told by the town it was being removed.
No tickets were issued for this incident, as "the contractor mistakenly believed it could store the debris on-site during the winter months while working on a construction project," the DEC said.
The park will be closed for an "indefinite" amount of time while the investigation is conducted, Senft said, which will delay the construction on the $1.5 million pool rehabilitation project that was supposed to be completed by June.
Spota began investigating after the DEC received a complaint in March of illegal dumping of construction and demolition material in an undeveloped area of the park.
At Tuesday's town board meeting, several residents voiced outrage at the chain of events at the park. Nelsena Day, a member of Suffolk County's chapter of New York Communities for Change, which has been pressing the town to improve the facility and upgrade the park and its swimming pool, said the non-profit had gathered 150 signatures from community members demanding answers.
"When did you find out about the illegal dumping over there and what is going on with it?," Day, of Brentwood, asked the board. "If you don't care, just let us know and we'll find another alternative. But our kids, they need a place where they can go to play basketball, where they can learn to swim."