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Schumer pushes EPA on cleanup plan for Niagara, Grand Island radioactive ‘hot spots’

Sen. Charles E. Schumer wants the Environmental Protection Agency to come up with a cleanup plan for dozens of radioactive “hot spots” in western Niagara County and Grand Island.

The sites contain radioactive material mixed with gravel or other fill materials, and are believed to have originated at Niagara Falls-area industries that carried out work on radioactive materials for decades.

The Investigative Post website first reported last week that the government has known about the sites since the 1970s, but at the time, it cleaned up only those whose radioactive materials were believed to have been connected with waste from the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in World War II, or other work related to nuclear weapons.

The waste from that effort is stored to this day at the old Lake Ontario Ordnance Works site in Lewiston and Porter.

That accounted for cleanups of about one-third of roughly 100 radioactive sites in the region identified in the 1970s, but most of the others haven’t been touched. Those were the ones where the fill material originated at private firms.

Several of the hot spots have been in the news in recent years. A reconstruction project on Lewiston Road, state Route 104 in the City of Niagara Falls, was delayed between 2006 and 2011 because of radioactive material in the roadbed.

The Niagara County Board of Health was told in 2006 that a 1986 federal report indicated that the material on Lewiston Road might have been phosphorus slag that fell out of trucks hauling it from the Oldbury Chemical and Union Carbide plants in the Falls to the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works as far back as the 1950s.

Since 2013, the EPA has announced cleanup efforts in a driveway leading to Holy Trinity Cemetery in Lewiston; in the parking lot of Rapids Bowling Center and a neighboring building supply store on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Niagara Falls; and a private driveway on Upper Mountain Road in Lewiston.

EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez said the state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation referred the three sites to the EPA in 2013 to determine if they would qualify for cleanups with federal Superfund money. The answer was no. State agencies had been calling for cleanups at those three locations since the 1970s, according to Investigative Post.

Rodriguez said, “The occupied interior space of the bowling alley was found not to be contaminated. At the Niagara Falls Boulevard site, EPA collected soil samples and detected elevated gamma radiation levels in several areas within an unoccupied portion of the supply building. EPA conducted further samples at the Niagara Falls Boulevard location and is planning to remove contaminated soils under portions of the supply building and from the surrounding parking lots. EPA fenced off the vacant areas at the cemetery and is awaiting test results.”

In a letter to the EPA, Schumer, D-N.Y., called for a comprehensive assessment and remediation plan for all the sites in the region, especially those neglected for more than 40 years.

“The extent of these radioactive hot spots in Niagara County and the lack of clear information about them means that the EPA needs to step up its game to address this problem,” he said. “The bottom line is that we need better information from the EPA as to the extent of these hot spots, how dangerous they are, and what exactly we can do to clean them up ASAP. That’s why the EPA must conduct an immediate assessment of these hot spots and work with the local community and state regulators to develop a remediation plan. It is high time we do right by these Niagara communities and homeowners and businesses.”

Schumer said a cleanup plan is necessary following the updated assessment to ensure residents and their families are safe from any public health risk.

Rodriguez said, “New York State refers radioactive sites to EPA for review. EPA remains committed to working with the State of New York on additional sites that warrant attention.”