Groundwater on Long Island is continually tainted by high levels of manganese from large-scale composting projects, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The department contacted Stony Brook University about potentially researching how the composting of trees, leaves and grass clippings has impacted groundwater. The Waste Reduction and Management Institute at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences would be responsible for the project, DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said.

Henry Bokuniewicz, a distinguished service professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, is currently doing the analysis on all the existing data related to this situation.

When composting, there is always a concern that chemicals like pesticides will seep into the groundwater, he said. And as more composting occurs, water absorbed into the ground has less oxygen, causing chemical reactions in the ground that also cause naturally occurring manganese to seep into groundwater.

“It is a research into the chemical effects of composting on groundwater quality,” Bokuniewicz said. “We have been in touch with the DEC and the Suffolk county Health Department.”

Currently, Bokuniewicz and the graduate student in charge of the research are looking for chemicals that are unique to composting sites and the chemical reactions involved. They are also planning to visit these sites to develop a plan for sampling. Once they come up with a hypothesis, it will be presented to the DEC for approval.

Elevated manganese levels were discovered in 2009 during state and county investigations near Long Island Compost in Yaphank, according to Newsday. Other composting facilities have shown similar issues, according to Suffolk’s Department of Health Services. Severino said that the state would revise the permits issued to compost facilities.

Even though manganese is a key component of a healthy diet, high levels can cause health issues, including neurological problems.


Bokuniewicz said he hopes analysis of the data will be completed by the end of the year.


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