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Engineers for Occidental Chemical Corp. today disclosed a plan to contain the largest source of chemicals polluting the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.

But they caution that stopping the flow of chemicals spilled or buried on the 115-acre site of Occidental's Buffalo Avenue plant will take a decade, leading to concern that the state might not meet the deadline set in a U.S.-Canadian agreement to halve the flow of toxics into the river by 1996.

The company's engineers think that, with full co-operation and prompt approval of the plan, a sufficient volume of migrating chemicals will be contained to meet the terms of the agreement.

Company officials met with state and federal officials this week, but both sides stressed that additional studies are necessary before they can make a commitment to a final plan. The Buffalo Avenue plant has been identified as the largest single contributor to chemicals flowing into the river. It discharges 340 of the 694 pounds of chemicals entering the river every day, according to government estimates.

Occidental acknowledges that its chemicals are going into the river but disputes the amount.

"We think it's more like 130 pounds, but it's still a significant contribution," said Alan F. Weston, manager of Occidental's analytical services for special environmental projects.

Company officials declined to provide cost estimates for the
plan, saying it's too early.

The company's plan is simple in concept, complex in execution.

It proposes using abandoned sewer lines to collect the contaminated ground water, which then would be treated in two new carbon filtration plants, plus one already in operation.

Weston described the soil in the contaminated area as "saturated, so saturated it is spongy" because of the history of spilling and dumping chemicals since the plant began operation in 1906.

"Our investigation shows that most of the ground water that carries the chemicals flows naturally into the pipes," Weston said.

The plan is a variation of remedial plans at other Occidental sites, where lacking the sewer pipes such as those at the plant site, collection lines were installed around the perimeter of the sites.

Occidental has identified four major areas that will require cleanup operations, two north of Buffalo Avenue and two south of the street, adjacent to the river and the Moses Parkway.

Occidental manufactures almost 30 "intermediate chemicals," building blocks sold to other companies that use them to manufacture scores of consumer products from bleach to brake linings, plastics to flame retardants.

Occidental proposes to build a collector system along the plant property lines to the north and west as an added precaution, although Weston believes "there is very little movement off the site." The company also suggests putting a short barrier wall along the Niagara River to prevent river water flowing into and through the plant property.

In April, the company will drill several wells along the north and west boundaries to check migration of chemicals off the plant site.

Work on the plant site also includes a separate project, constructing a multimillion-dollar remedial effort that will surround the S-Area dump with a barrier wall, collection system and pump-out operation. Contaminated ground water will be treated on the site.

Peter Buechi, chief of the DEC's hazardous waste program in Buffalo, said Occidental is on schedule, but emphasized that completion of the work is critical to meeting the binational agreement.

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