The next phase of a federal cleanup of the Eighteen Mile Creek corridor in Niagara County will be broader in scope and cost than the earlier work.
Four properties and the creekbed – contaminated with PCBs, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals – would benefit from the remediation in the proposed $23 million cleanup plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It’s the second of three phases to rehabilitate the 15-mile-long creek corridor. The corridor was listed as a federal Superfund site in 2012.
Federal officials are scheduled to hear the public’s input on the second phase Wednesday in Lockport before finalizing a decision by the end of the month. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the 4-H Training Center at the Niagara County Fairgrounds, 4487 Lake Ave., Lockport.
“This is light-years ahead of the way we did business years ago,” said Michael Basile, a spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Over the last three years, the $4 million first phase consisted of relocating five Lockport families from contaminated Water Street properties and the demolition of the former Flintkote Plant, a long-neglected industrial eyesore on nearby Mill Street.
Federal officials called it a priority to clean up the Great Lakes from pollutants left behind by the region’s industrial legacy.
The project in Lockport was listed as the top item on the EPA’s national website on Friday.
The EPA’s proposal, unveiled Wednesday, calls for contaminated land from the former United Paperboard Co., former Flintkote Plant and White Transportation, all on Mill Street abutting the creek, to be remediated as well as the nearly 6-acre Upson Park property and the contaminated creek channel.
EPA documents show varying degrees of contamination:
• PCBs at Upson Park were reported at a maximum level of 390 parts per million – about four times higher than the EPA’s threat guideline for residential areas, but less than the 500 parts per million guideline for industrial sites. Upson Park, used for recreation along the Erie Canal, was once the site of a paper mill.
• A health assessment based on recreational users at Upson Park shows a slightly more than 2 in 100,000 increased cancer risk and between three and seven times higher risks for other health hazards, including organ or immune function, through direct exposure or inhalation of particles or chemicals.
• Average surface concentrations for lead in one area of the White Transportation property were triple the EPA guidelines for commercial or industrial land. Concentrations of lead above the EPA threshold were also found in the creek channel and former Flintkote property.
• Consuming PCB and mercury-contaminated fish from the creek increases noncancerous health risks by seven to 14 times and results in a heightened chance for cancer of 7.1 in 10,000.
Contamination on all of the Lockport properties proposed for cleanup in the second phase is suspected of adding to the pollution of Eighteen Mile Creek.
The creek, a tributary to Lake Ontario, flows downstream through Newfane, Olcott and Wilson, where it empties into the lake.
The tributary to the lake is a popular one for area fishermen, but because of the widespread pollution, health officials recommend against eating any fish caught there.
That recommendation won’t change soon, but it is a long-term goal of the tens of millions of dollars being spent for environmental remediation. Basile said cleaning up the toxic spots from tributaries leading into the Great Lakes is the best way to restore health to ecosystems.
“If you keep letting the faucet run, you’re not stopping the pollution,” Basile said.
There’s no definitive timeline to finish phase two. The timetable depends heavily on federal funding.
The third phase will involve the remediation of the balance of the creek corridor from Lockport to Lake Ontario.
Meanwhile, the EPA is also trying to track down the polluters responsible for the contamination to make them pay.
“We are still in the process of finding potential responsible parties,” Basile said. “That is ongoing.”
Written comments on the EPA’s proposed plan can also be mailed to Jaclyn Kondrk, remedial project manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 190 Broadway, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10007; or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.