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The former Barker Chemical Co. site in Somerset has been declared a public-health hazard, and soil tests are under way to determine the extent and cause of the problem, the county Board of Health was told Thursday.

County Environmental Health Director James J. Devald reported that testing last month by the state Department of Environmental Conservation showed acidic readings in standing water on the 10.9-acre West Somerset Road site.

Barker Chemical, which manufactured agricultural chemicals from the 1930s to the 1960s, dumped lime, sulfur and other sludge into lagoons.

Devald said local youths play hockey on one frozen pond. Readings in pooled water on the site showed a pH level of 1.71, which Devald's report said is "representative of a strong acid and potentially hazardous to health by direct contact."

Besides that, some discolored soil, shades of green and red, has been found, Devald said.

He said Somerset put up warning signs at the site this week. The owners of record, Mark and Mathew Mazzo of Dandridge, Tenn., have been sent letters ordering them to put up a fence around the site. If they do not do so within 10 days, local officials will.

Devald said the Mazzos are the sons of the late Martin P. Mazzo of Medina, Barker Chemical's former owner. County officials said last summer that property taxes on the parcel are delinquent.

Barker Chemical was one of the top-priority brownfield sites identified by the county's Brownfields Working Group in September.

Another was the former Dussault Foundry in Lockport. Devald said a number of drums, most of them empty, have been found at the factory, which closed in 1995.

In other topics at the Board of Health meeting, Health Department Director of Financial Operations Daniel J. Stapleton reported that closing the county public-health laboratory, which was done at the end of 1998, produced savings of more than $40,000.

Stapleton said the county spent $60,696 on lab work in 1999, mostly paid to Erie County for handling analysis of Niagara County water and restaurant food samples and testing for tuberculosis.

In 1998, the last year the lab was open, it cost $100,887 to operate, Stapleton said.

Also on Thursday:

Director of Patient Services Marylou Nassoiy said the number of referrals to the county's home-care program is falling, though she did not have exact figures. She blamed the finding on declining hospital admissions, and on an arrangement between DeGraff Memorial Hospital and the Visiting Nursing Association for home care.

Board President Jean Wactawski-Wende appointed new committees. Dr. Louis B. Kramer of Niagara Falls will head the Personnel Committee; John Gotowko of North Tonawanda will serve as chairman of the Legislative Committee; Lockport veterinarian Steven Lewis will run the Space & Equipment Committee; and Dr. Jerome J. Ulatowski II of Lewiston will be chairman of the Quality Control & Audit Committee.

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