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Soil tests planned at campus of Lew-Port ; Army Corps will look for taint by chemicals

Sampling is expected to begin as soon as late July for radiological and chemical contamination on areas of the campus of the Lewiston-Porter schools, representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday night.

Soil tests will be conducted for chemicals and radiological materials at 16 locations behind the Creek Road campus, corps officials said during a public information session in the Lewiston Senior Center.

A report with test results should be completed in November, said Mick Senus, a project manager with the Buffalo District of the corps.

Officials will study the "most suspicious" areas, including mounds and pits, as well as some locations in a large drainage ditch in the area, Senus said.

Samples will be analyzed for a variety of chemicals, including metals, explosives and PCBs, as well as radiological contamination.

The corps has previously done sampling on the Lew-Port campus, which is on the former Lake Ontario Ordance Works site. That location was used in weapons production and waste storage during and after World War II.

The Ordnance Works site, encompassing 7,500 acres of land in both Lewiston and Porter, includes a 191-acre area known as the Niagara Falls Storage Site, which contains a 10-acre storage cell for radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project.

Wednesday's session touched on a variety of topics and was attended by more than two dozen members of the public. Some of the topics discussed included regulators' plans for dealing with the potential catastrophic effects on the waste cell from seismic events such as Wednesday's earthquake north of Ottawa, which was felt in Western New York.

Former area resident and chemist Ann Roberts raised concerns about the integrity of the waste cell, known as the Interim Waste Containment Structure.

She said her review of environmental monitoring data leads her to believe that the cell is leaking. That belief, she said, is based in part on levels of uranium, a radioactive element, found in groundwater.

Roberts, who submitted written comments to regulators Wednesday that outlined her concerns, also said regulators have had the opportunity to investigate further but for some reason have chosen not to.

During the session, corps officials said they were open to looking at Roberts' concerns and agreed to consider further study.

Roberts is not the first person to raise questions about the possibility of the nuclear waste leaking from the storage site.

Last year, the Restoration Advisory Board for the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works, an advisory group to federal regulators, issued a report warning that the site may be leaking.

Corps officials have said, and reiterated Wednesday, that they do not believe that the site is leaking but that the contamination is pre-existing from other site activities.

Corps representatives also provided an update on plans to tear down a building formerly used to store radioactive materials. The structure, known as Building 401, is scheduled to be demolished by the end of the year.

The ultimate result of the corps' investigation of the Niagara Falls Storage Site will be a decision on whether the radiological waste in the 10-acre cell should remain on-site or be shipped elsewhere for more permanent storage.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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