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Test for radiation planned near landfill

The state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to conduct a radiation survey next month of homes closest to areas of the Tonawanda Landfill where radioactive wastes are present.

Maureen Wren, a DEC spokeswoman, said last week that the survey will include some homes on Hackett Drive in the City of Tonawanda.

The landfill, in the northwest corner of the Town of Tonawanda, was used as a dumping ground for uranium, radium and thorium as the byproduct of the Manhattan Project's nuclear weapons research in the years during and after World War II.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. today in the Tonawanda High School auditorium, 150 Hinds St., to present its plan for dealing with the radioactive wastes within the landfill. But residents and elected officials have pressed for assessments of materials in a neighboring residential area that includes an elementary school.

"DEC does not suspect that the radioactive material has left the landfill," Wren said. "Radiation surveys and soil borings have been performed along the northern boundary at various times over the past 20 years, and none of the results have suggested that the radioactive material extends into neighboring yards."

The Army Corps of Engineers didn't have the authority to sample beyond the landfill boundary, because none of the past sampling showed the material extended into nearby yards, Wren said.

"Nevertheless," she continued, "DEC has decided to perform the survey to provide concerned residents with confirmation that off-site areas have not been impacted by the radioactive material."

While pleased with the DEC's plans for Hackett Drive homes, one state lawmaker still is pressing for Riverview Elementary School's property and playground to be included in the survey.

"Since DEC's announcement only mentioned the homes on Hackett Drive, I have contacted [DEC Commissioner Alexander Grannis] to urge that the school property be included," Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, said Thursday.

"This is an important first step in addressing the concerns of the City of Tonawanda residents in regard to the landfill, and I am confident that the collective efforts of elected officials and residents will be the key to resolving this matter," Schimminger said.

DEC staff will carry radiation-detection instruments while walking across the yards. The instruments will measure soil -- up to a depth of six inches -- for radiation levels beyond those that occur naturally.

If contamination is detected through the survey and subsequent soil tests, Wren said, the state Department of Health will be consulted to determine if it presents a significant radiation hazard and whether immediate control measures are appropriate.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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