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RATTLESNAKE CREEK TO UNDERGO SECOND ROUND OF SOIL TESTS

Army Corps of Engineers crews are gearing up for a second round of soil tests at the Town of Tonawanda's Rattlesnake Creek in an attempt to confirm previous test results that showed levels of radioactive uranium low enough to make cleanup work unnecessary.

The new round of tests, set to begin next month or in early November, will extend the area of soil sampling all the way to the Niagara River, federal engineers said.

New tests will be done in the Rattlesnake Creek bed itself, plus where the creek flows into the larger Two-Mile Creek and where Two-Mile Creek empties into the Niagara River, the engineers said.

"All the data we've received so far indicates that the levels are perfectly safe," said David J. Conboy, the Army Corps engineer in charge of the Rattlesnake Creek testing. "The levels that are above normal are below ground, so even there they're perfectly safe. A child could play in the area and be safe."

In June, the Corps revealed that buried deposits of radioactive uranium had been discovered in the Rattlesnake Creek bed by crews doing routine walkover tests of soils in the area.

The contaminated soil, buried in a layer about 18 inches below the surface, were believed by the engineers to have migrated to the creek bed area from the nearby Ashland II site, a property at 4545 River Road where the federal government has cleaned up radioactive waste left over from bomb production during World War II.

Since the walkover tests turned up the buried uranium, federal engineers have done soil sampling and recorded levels of contamination not up to any dangerous levels that would require cleanup and remediation.

However, the engineers also have learned that the Rattlesnake Creek contamination is different from the tainted materials removed from the Ashland II site -- leaving engineers puzzled about where the creek bed contamination might have come from and when.

Conboy said the second round of tests may shed some light on the source of the uranium but emphasized that tracking the origins of the material is "secondary" to measuring the levels of contamination and assuring the public that no health threat exists.

"I can't say with certainty we'll be able to say in our report, 'It came from here (or) it came from there,' " Conboy said. "That's secondary to protecting the public health."

Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Carl J. Calabrese said residents in the town and City of Tonawanda -- the other municipality Two-Mile Creek flows through on its way to the Niagara River -- have no reason to be worried about the continued presence of the Army Corps in the Rattlesnake Creek area.

The second round of tests is merely the fulfillment of a pledge made to residents when the contamination was first discovered, he said.

"Just to make the community feel secure, and to make them feel they (the Army Corps) have done everything they can, they're going to this second phase," Calabrese said. "This was part of the commitment they made two months ago."

Conboy, the project engineer, said that if the results of the second round of tests match the first set of results, no further sampling or remediation work will be done in the creek area.

Whatever the results of the second set of tests, a comprehensive report on the creek's contamination and the Army Corps' response to the situation will be issued in early 2000, Conboy said.

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