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The Niagara River is getting much cleaner, although the battle is far from over.

That's the message a federal environmental official will bring to a public forum Tuesday in Youngstown.

The program, "The State of the River," is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Youngstown Fire Hall at Third and Elliott streets.

"We've come an awful long way," said Mike Basile, spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and key speaker for Tuesday's program. Four U.S. and Canadian government environmental agencies -- federal, state and provincial -- became partners in 1988 on the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan to clean up river pollution.

Since then, on the American side of the border, 16 of 26 industrial sites that were polluting the river have been cleaned up at a cost of $382 million, primarily borne by the companies responsible, Basile said. Twelve of those were in Niagara County.

"We still have work to do," he added. Another 10 sites remain to be cleaned up, which will likely cost about $250 million more. Work is under way on six of those sites now, he said.

Contaminated sediment remains in the river, he said, and monitoring continues for 18 toxic chemicals. Fish advisories also remain in effect.

Basile's 30-minute talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session, and audience members may also make observations, said Rod Fairbank, a board member for Friends of Youngstown Free Library, the group sponsoring the program.

Fairbank grew up in Youngstown and worked at his father's sailboat marina from 1966 to 1971.

"The condition of the river was deplorable at the time. It was very polluted with both sewage effluents and industrial waste, and the only fish you would see would be a dead fish," he said.

Returning to Niagara County after living in California and New York City for many years, "I've been very impressed by how much better the river is, as a place to work and as a place for sailing, fishing, other recreation," he said.

Basile also said, "I know from talking to boaters and fishermen they have discovered over time that the water is much cleaner."

"This meeting is for the information and benefit of local citizens, fishermen, sailors, people who own powerboats, people who would like to swim and water-ski on the river. It's to give them an idea of what's going on and what they can anticipate over the next 10 to 20 years," Fairbank said.


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