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LEAD CONTAMINATION FOUND MORE EXTENSIVE; BUT TESTS IN CHEEKTOWAGA DISCLOSE NO ELEVATED LEVELS IN 29 CHILDREN

Lead contamination along a section of Slate Bottom Creek in Cheektowaga is far more extensive than previously thought, the state Department of Environmental Conservation says.

As a result, 29 children living nearby were screened for lead, but "no one tested had a lead level considered to be elevated by current federal guidelines," the DEC said.

From August through November, the DEC excavated 1,700 cubic yards of soil from the creek banks and moved it to a temporary containment area.

The contamination has been found along a 2,500-foot stretch of the creek at its confluence with Deerkill Creek, also known as Little Slate Bottom Creek, in a wooded area east of Union Road and between Losson and French roads.

A plan is expected to be unveiled in February on treating or permanently disposing of the contamination along the creek and the adjacent waste-disposal site, where the excavated soil is being contained temporarily.

The DEC plans to hold a public meeting on the plan in April, and a decision on implementing it will be made in May.

The contamination reached the creek from the abandoned waste-disposal site, known as the "tar pit," where lead and very small amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls have been found.

The tar pit is part of the old Gardenville rail yards, which closed about 1959.

A year ago, a 3,000-foot-long, chain-link fence was erected around a 38-acre contaminated area.

The DEC originally planned to excavate only 75 cubic yards of exposed waste deposits, about a foot deep, along the creek banks.

"The initial excavation, however, revealed the extent of waste material and contaminated soil to be far greater in depth than originally anticipated," the DEC said in an update released this week.

Although elevated levels of other metals and petroleum hydrocarbons were found, they were "far overshadowed" by lead as the principal contaminant, Martin Doster, DEC regional engineer, said Wednesday.

The lead concentrations did not exceed expectations. But a larger amount than expected was spread over a greater area, farther below the surface and from the stream, he said.

While excavations were under way, decisions to move more material were made by DEC personnel on the basis of the dark, blackish color of soil contaminated by lead, Doster said.

The decisions were made at the site, without waiting for laboratory analysis, so the lead content was not precisely determined, he added.

The DEC said erosion probably will expose additional contamination. The creek banks, therefore, will be inspected periodically and any contamination removed.

Until warning signs were posted and fences put up, children from nearby residential areas had played near the creek.

The state Health Department sent forms to 900 homes and apartments in the Idylwoods Apartment complex, Losson Green Estates and on Pebble Creek Drive. About 100 were found to be vacant.

Residents were asked to list any children 16 or younger who had played in the disposal site or along the creek.

Parents of 29 children requested the tests, which were conducted in October. Results were sent to parents and their family physicians.

The highest blood lead level was 60 percent of the level considered elevated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the DEC said.

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