The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked nine City of Lockport residential property owners for permission to take soil samples at their homes.
EPA spokesman Michael Basile said the agency is trying to determine whether there was off-site contamination from the former Flintkote plant on Mill Street, which the EPA tore down last year in a Superfund cleanup project.
Most of the homes are located on Mill Street, while others are nearby on Chapel and Porter streets.
Shirley A. Nicholas, a Mill Street resident and environmental activist who recently won an EPA award, said she received one of the letters and is giving the agency the go-ahead for work to begin this week.
"We normally do activities like this to try to get a better picture, if there was anything and if it links to the site or it doesn't," Basile said. "We have to do the samples to answer those questions."
More soil samples also are being taken on the Flintkote site, Basile said.
Nicholas said she and three members of the Lockport Common Council - Mark S. Devine, Anita Mullane and Joseph P. Oates - visited some of the property owners Sunday to convince them to give permission for the soil tests. Basile said he visited some homeowners Thursday to answer their questions.
"Residents should not be nervous, but they have to make the decision as to whether to give us access," Basile said.
Nicholas said only one property owner that she knows of has turned down the EPA's request.
"I would say, let 'em test," Oates said.
"The EPA has done a good job of keeping the city informed, but it's really between the EPA and each property owner," Mayor Anne E., McCaffrey said.
The letters don't say exactly what type of contamination the EPA is checking for at the homes.
"If there's any types of elevated levels that involve any type of remediation, then we have to determine whether it matches the fingerprint of the sampling activities we do at the Flintkote site," Basile said.
A test about three years ago showed high levels of lead in Nicholas' yard. "I closed down my garden because of it," she said.
Flintkote, a building materials company which was destroyed in a fire 46 years ago, was believed to be one of the primary sources of industrial pollution, including cancer-causing PCBs, that led the EPA to place the entire Eighteen Mile Creek corridor from Lockport to Olcott on the federal Superfund cleanup list.
In 2014 and 2015, the EPA bought five homes on Water Street in Lockport, across the creek from Flintkote, and paid to relocate the homeowners because of pollution from the creek that washed into their yards whenever the water was high. The demolitions of the homes and the Flintkote plant were completed in 2016.
In January, the EPA decided to go ahead with a $23.3 million plan of excavation and capping for Flintkote and excavation of contaminated soil at two other former Mill Street industrial sites, United Paperboard and White Transportation, as well as Upson Park, a city park south of the industrial locations, which was constructed on a former industrial site.
Basile said the EPA is putting a work plan together and then will seek funding. He said the earliest date for work to begin on the excavation plan is late 2018. He said the results of the soil testing at homes won't affect that timeline.
The EPA's January report said the work should allow for the continued recreational use of the park and continued industrial use of the other sites.
The plan also calls for excavation of sediment from about 4,000 feet of the creek bed from the Erie Canal to Harwood Street. About 14,500 cubic yards of materials are to be removed in a bank-to-bank cleanup.
However, the EPA report says the cleanup won't impact the current ban on eating fish caught in the creek because more studies are needed about the extent and nature of contamination there.
Excavation of the creek bed from Lockport to Olcott is anticipated in the future, the EPA report said.