Sen. Charles E. Schumer on Monday called on the Environmental Protection Agency to resume cleanup efforts of radioactive locations in Lewiston and Niagara Falls, warning they still pose a serious threat to public health.
The EPA recently abandoned cleanup activities to clean up hot spots that resulted from radioactive waste byproducts from prior industrial uses. The three sites are a parking lot at a bowling alley on Niagara Falls Boulevard, a lot adjacent to Holy Trinity Cemetery and a residential site on Upper Mountain Road. The EPA estimated the cost of the cleanups to be $3 million and said they were in various stages of investigation and cleanup efforts for the three properties when the work was halted.
"EPA just packed up the trucks, abandoned the sites, abandoned homeowners and residents here in Lewiston," said Schumer, standing in front of the fenced-in field by Holy Trinity Cemetery. "Now, with EPA's abrupt departure there is uncertainty once again."
Investigative Post, a nonprofit investigative reporting center in Buffalo, first reported in August that the federally funded work to remove radioactive gravel from numerous hot spots in Niagara County had run out of money and came to a halt.
Schumer said the EPA has not responded to questions about why the work was stopped.
"We're calling them to do two things: Immediately return to the Niagara Falls Boulevard site and complete your work, and complete the plans for the Holy Trinity Cemetery and Upper Mountain road sites, and clean those up as well," Schumer said. "We just need a reaffirmation that they are going to continue this work, and continue it right away."
More than 60 hot spots exist in Western New York, mostly in Niagara County. The contaminated areas are often in gravel found in roads, parking lots and driveways, as well as in backyards, open fields and industrial areas.
"The danger isn't immediate. None of us are going to get in trouble for standing here," Schumer said. "But radioactivity can gradually and slowly create real trouble. So if you live here day in and day out, you worry that in the future something bad might happen health-wise," Schumer said. "And you further worry that the value of your home – which is the largest investment most Western New Yorkers, most Americans have – will decrease because of it."
Harry Wade, a resident who lives across the street from the Holy Trinity Cemetery site, met with Schumer and expressed his frustration with the cleanup, and the effect the contaminated property has on home values.
Lewiston Supervisor Steve Broderick also joined Schumer to express concern.
"A red flag was raised – they were going to clean it up – and they left without cleaning up the red flag," Broderick said. "I'd like to see it cleaned up, and cleaned up the right way."