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Site being taken to the cleaners

The Peters Dry Cleaning building is likely to be added to the state's Superfund cleanup list within 30 days, a Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman said.

Its owner, Pat McFall, said he inherited the pollution problems, when he bought the business four years ago.

The former owner, Earl W. Peters, also denied any dumping while he owned business, which he acquired in 1972.

McFall said state officials have told him the building will likely be demolished.

He said he'll close operations there by the end of November and plans to start another dry-cleaning business The store at 316 Willow St. was classified last week as a Class 2 inactive hazardous waste site posing a threat to public health.

"I'm going to distance myself from the name. I'm going to abandon the building," said McFall, who said the actual cleaning of the clothes dropped off at the Willow Street store already is done at a plant in Niagara Falls.

DEC spokeswoman Lisa King said the building has been used as a dry-cleaning store since the 1930s. The chemical that caused the contamination, tetrachloroethene, was used until the 1970s, she said.

Peters said he's spent $200,000 on environmental remediation at the store in the past several years.

He said he had an underground fuel oil tank removed when he was planning to sell the business, and that's when the contamination was discovered.

"The big problem with this was vapor intrusion," State Health Department spokesman Pete Constantakes said.

He said ventilation systems have been installed beneath the store and the house next door to vent fumes from the solvent away from the structures after they rise out of the ground. He also said there are volatile organic chemicals from the solvent in the ground water.

"The danger is very minimal. The contamination is all below ground level," he said. "If people swim in this, they might have a problem."

Mark Bedient, who lives about 100 feet away on the other side of Willow Street, has a different perspective.

His 11-year-old daughter, Christina, died in 1996 from brain cancer, the cause of which never was established.

"I've been told chemical contamination can cause this," Bedient said. He said a neighbor who lives closer to the cleaning store has a child with Down syndrome, and there are two other brain cancer cases within a few blocks.

"Am I saying [the cleaning solvent contamination] caused it? No, I'm not, but somebody ought to be looking into it, and the city and the state aren't doing enough," Bedient said.

He also asked, "What does this do to my housing value that I've been paying on for 25 years?"

Constantakes said, "We want to clean this up. We want to get rid of the problem. But in the meantime, measures are in place to protect the public health."

Alderman Andrew D. Chapman, whose 4th Ward includes Willow Street, said he hopes to hold a public meeting this week with Hinton as speaker.