Tractor-trailers Thursday hauled some 200 tons of dirt laced with low-level radioactive waste out of Niagara Falls State Park on the first day of what's expected to be a weeklong removal process.
About a dozen tractor-trailers each hauled about 15 tons to a disposal site in Ohio.
The contaminated dirt was discovered in May by the contractor building a new entrance path and bus drop-off lane for the park. The dirt had been piled and then covered with plastic sheeting for three months.
No signs warned the tens of thousands of tourists who daily walked past the radioactive waste at the Prospect Street entrance to the park.
A State Parks spokesperson said the agency reacted appropriately.
"What's the first thing that we think about once we uncover this? Well, got to contain it, No. 1. We did that," said Randy Simons of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "It was a pretty easy containment. This material, you just need a barrier. A tarp is suitable to contain this type of material."
State Parks followed all state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations "to the strictest code," he said.
"Now that we've identified it and contained it, does it pose an impact of concern to public health and safety? And the determination is, absolutely not," Simons said.
The site where the radioactivity was discovered already was fenced off as Scott Law Yard of Sanborn worked on the $4.6 million entry project.
"It was always in a confined space inaccessible to the public, in a fenced-in area," Simons said.
The waste will be taken to Waste Management's Mahoning Landfill in New Springfield, Ohio, Simons said.
The total amount to be removed is about 1,000 tons, or 570 cubic yards.
The Buffalo News reported Wednesday that besides the radioactivity, DEC tests also found the dirt contains petroleum-based contamination and benzopyrene, a common cancer-causing chemical found in cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust and coal tar.
Thursday, workers wore no protective gear other than normal hard hats.
This isn't the first time radioactive material has been found in the park. Simons said some was dug up and removed during recent improvements around the Cave of the Winds, as well as while the state was investigating sites for a new State Park Police station.
"When we contract these projects out, we always have a point in the contract that suggests, 'Look, you are working in Niagara Falls. Over the years it has been proven you never know what you might encounter when you dig into the surface.' "
Much of what is now parkland was used by industry decades ago, Simons said. The former Robert Moses Parkway also used to run through the area of the park where the discovery was made.
For the past several years, there have been numerous reports of radioactive slag generated decades ago by industries such as Union Carbide and Oldbury Electrochemical, being used as fill for everything from roadbeds to driveways at private homes in Niagara Falls, Lewiston and Grand Island, leading to a federal lawsuit by 28 local property owners against the companies.
The exact source of the material in the state park is unknown.
"Nonetheless, it's there, we found it," Simons said. "It's actually good news that we found it, because we cleaned it up and it's a much healthier, cleaner site. We're confident that where it was discovered, we removed it all."