A yearlong study of the Outer Harbor waterfront has located several pollution sites, but nothing considered toxic enough to threaten development plans for the area.
The state-supervised study found heavy-metal contamination, widespread residues from dumping, polluted ground water and one major hot spot.
Still, no disaster was uncovered.
"We don't have a problem of 400 acres of contamination," said David J. Franko, general manager of planning for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. "What we've got is a problem of some contaminated sites."
The results are preliminary, and more tests are needed, but nothing has surfaced to stop the authority from developing its waterfront -- if development conforms with limitations set by the pollution.
"There's certainly a concern, but these levels at this point do not represent a major public health concern," said Anthony T. Voell, an environmental consultant to the NFTA. "But if you change the land use, then you have to look at it."
The major problem lies near the radio tower adjacent to the Tops warehouse. The site, between the Bell Slip and the former Port of Buffalo, reveals an unusually large concentration of 39 volatile and semi-volatile compounds, which Franko said are thought to be dumpings from the dye industry in the 1940s.
While the contamination appears to be concentrated in one small area, it is serious enough to require further study, Franko said. It also might require some type of removal program or other "remedial" measures.
Joseph P. Ryan, an attorney overseeing the study for the Department of Environmental Conservation, would not comment on the preliminary findings. But he acknowledged that the problems must be considered when the NFTA or any other agency finishes the development plans.
"There may well be further testing, and then ultimately some decision as to how this site will be classified," he said.
"If there's going to be high intensity use, we'll scrutinize it a lot more than if it were some passive use," added Cameron H. O'Connor, program research specialist for the state Department of Health.
No conclusions can be drawn at this point about what the findings mean for future development of the waterfront, which could include housing, commercial areas and parks. But some areas might be candidates for clay caps or other measures, study officials said.
In only one area -- the radio tower -- would treatment or removal be considered, they said.
Other problem areas include sites along Fuhrmann Boulevard and the shoreline just south of Shooters restaurant, where high concentrations of lead and zinc were found in six of 20 samples. According to Voell, the main concern lies not in the possibility of direct exposure, but in any potential for migrating through ground water.
Ground water tests show a variety of contaminants in all samples, Franko said.
"Our conclusion: Don't drink the ground water," he said.
But ground water is not a major concern because no use for it is projected, he said.