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Environmental investigators plan to survey the Bender Avenue-Clinton Street area next week testing soil to see if lead from a junkyard contaminated yards and gardens of homes surrounding the Bern Metal Corp. toxic-waste site.

"We are asking about 160 neighborhood residents for their cooperation in permitting technicians to take soil samples next week," said Michael Basile of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Letters requesting their cooperation were sent late last week."

The testing is in conjunction with a $1.2 million cleanup now under way at the site and the third junkyard remedial project in the immediate area that involves sloppy handling of heavy metals and chemical wastes that pose potential health and environmental threats.

The state Health Department has offered lead screening for children 16 and under who live in the vicinity of the Bern site. Basile said the state acted after government officials were told that children played in fields on the site.

"Our plan is to test the homes immediately adjacent to the six-acre Bern site at 22 Bender Ave.," said Kevin Matheis, EPA's on-site coordinator. "Then, if we find evidence of lead or other chemicals, including PCBs, we will move out across Clinton Street up to a half mile from the Bern scrap yard."

Residents on Jones, Lewis, Clemo, Laux and Clinton streets and Fillmore Avenue have been asked to contact the EPA's Niagara Falls office as soon as possible so work can begin Monday.

"We'll take samples on a random basis from possibly 40 to 50 residential yards," Basile said. "It involves taking a small round core sample about 6 inches deep."

Work started Nov. 26 on the Bern site with crews removing transformers, a number of industrial drums and other waste. There are an estimated 200 55-gallon drums along with scrap metal, buried tanks, sludge and contaminated soils.

EPA officials say a major concern is lead on the site from battery salvage operations.

Next door, Westinghouse Environmental and Geotechnical Services is also cleaning up transformers, PCBs-contaminated soil and other wastes under a $366,000 contract at Universal Iron and Metal Corp. at 993 Clinton St. The two-acre site was a scrap yard where the company salvaged transformers and other materials. The EPA erected a fence around the two sites to prevent public access.

State Department of Environmental Conservation engineers say work on cleaning up a third site adjacent to the two EPA sites has been completed. The former Bengart and Memel Inc. site at 1091 Clinton St. was also a junkyard. Contractors removed contaminated soil and paved an area along Clinton St. to contain wastes.

All three junkyards are located along the south side of Clinton Street in a mixed residential, commercial and industrial zone. The three yards are ringed by railroad tracks on three sides and Clinton Street on the north.

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