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Radioactive steel mill cleanup in Lockport expected to cost $206M, is at least 11 years away

Radioactive steel mill cleanup in Lockport expected to cost $206M, is at least 11 years away

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Guterl Simonds Steel ATI

An undated aerial view of the former Simonds Saw & Steel Co. property in Lockport, with the contaminated Guterl Specialty Steel site on the left, bordering Ohio Street, and the Allegheny Technologies Inc. plant on the right. 

The Army Corps of Engineers has released a plan to demolish the radioactive portion of the old Simonds Saw & Steel Co. plant in Lockport, but not until 2032 at the earliest.

The Corps' $205.6 million plan calls for tearing down nine buildings and removing 18 inches of soil contaminated with uranium and thorium, processed at Simonds in the 1940s and 1950s.

After that, the Corps intends to dig a special trench to gather the site's groundwater, which now leaches contamination through the wall of the nearby Erie Canal.

A small water treatment plant is to be constructed on the site, but it will take about 33 years of treatment to make the water safe, a Corps report said.

A public comment on the proposed remediation is underway and will continue through Sept. 10, with a virtual public information meeting slated for 7 p.m. July 29.

Lockport Mayor Michelle M. Roman was pleased the Corps has decided on a path forward.

"This issue has been languishing for decades and we are encouraged by this news," she said. "We look forward to a remediated site that will potentially benefit the city and its residents, as opposed to the continuing health and safety issue, as well as the public eyesore, it has been."

The Ohio Street site, officially called the Guterl Specialty Steel site after a later owner, has stood vacant since 1982.

The portion of the plant that is not contaminated is operated now by Allegheny Technologies Inc.

The radioactivity is not airborne, so ATI workers have nothing to fear, project manager Natalie Watson said.

"It's very low-level material. It doesn't pose any imminent threat to health or the environment unless people were to live on the site, exposed to the material day after day for hours, basically all day, in order to obtain a dose that would pose an actual risk," Watson said.

The demolition of the so-called "excised property," to the north of the ATI plant, is currently projected for 2032, but the exact timetable depends on the availability of federal funding, Watson said.

The demolition and soil removal would take about two years. After another two years of groundwater monitoring, the trench project would take about a year to dig.

The Energy Department would be responsible for monitoring the water during the treatment phase, Watson said.

The Energy Department is the successor of the Atomic Energy Commission, which in the years after World War II signed up numerous Western New York companies for processing of radioactive materials.

The Corps of Engineers now operates a program called FUSRAP – Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program – to clean up sites connected with early atomic activities.

The 9-acre Lockport cleanup site was owned by Simonds from 1910 to 1966. From 1948 to 1956, the company rolled uranium steel billets into rods for the federal government.

Simonds processed an estimated 25 million to 35 million pounds of uranium and 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of thorium metal during that eight-year period. The radioactive material was hauled in and out by rail, the Corps said.

Simonds sold its entire 60 acres of property to Wallace-Murray Corp. in 1966. Guterl bought it in 1978 and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1982. Guterl sold the plant to what was then Allegheny Ludlum Corp., now Allegheny Technologies, in 1984, but the contaminated 9 acres were not part of the sale.

The Environmental Protection Agency spent about $250,000 in 1996 to remove about 100 drums of toxic chemicals from the site.

In 2012, the leak of radioactivity from the site's groundwater into the canal was disclosed, but Watson said this week the problem is minor.

"It doesn't pose a threat to the canal because as soon as the water touches it, it's completely diluted to the point where we don't even find trace amounts in the water," Watson said.

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Related to this story

  • Updated

Trace levels of radioactive uranium attributed to the former Guterl Steel plant in Lockport have been found in water seeping through the walls of the Erie Canal, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week. The December sampling was the first time seeping ground water at the Ohio Street plant was tested, according to Natalie Watson, outreach program

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