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Defunct Company Dumped Radioactive Waste into Sewer System and on the Land
(New York, N.Y. – Dec. 11, 2013) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed to add the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site in the Ridgewood section of Queens, New York to its Superfund list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. The soil and some nearby sewers are contaminated by residual radioactive contamination from past industrial activities at the site. Testing indicates that there is no immediate threat to nearby residents or employees and customers of businesses in the affected area along Irving and Cooper Avenues. Exposure to the radioactive contamination, however, may pose a threat to health in the long-term. In 2012, EPA began taking steps to reduce people’s potential exposure to the radiation and to address the potential health risks from the site.
The now defunct Wolff-Alport Chemical Company operated from 1920 until 1954, processing imported monazite sand and extracting rare earth metals. Monazite contains approximately 6% to 8% thorium, which is radioactive. Radiation can increase a person’s cancer risk.
“The EPA has taken steps to protect workers and nearby residents from immediate exposure to radiation,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “By adding the site to the Superfund list, the EPA can continue its work to protect people living and working in the area from long-term exposure to radiation from this site.”
The Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site covers 1125 to 1139 Irving Avenue and 1514 Cooper Avenue in Ridgewood, on the border of Brooklyn and Queens. During its years of operation, the facility occupied three structures and two yard areas at 1127 Irving Avenue. The company did not operate out of 1125 Irving Avenue or 1514 Cooper Avenue, but those properties were affected by the contamination. Today the site consists of six parcels of land with five buildings that house several small businesses, office space and warehouses. Until 1947, the company disposed of thorium waste in the sewer and on its property. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission ordered the company to stop the practice in 1947.
EPA provided technical assistance to New York State and New York City in conducting radiological surveys at the site and have identified waste material and radioactivity throughout the property, beneath adjacent public sidewalks and streets and in nearby sewers above levels expected to be found in a comparable urban area. The EPA, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Department of Health are working together to reduce potential long-term exposure to radiation from the site.
Between August 2012 and December 2013, the EPA conducted work to better understand site conditions and to reduce the potential exposure of workers and area residents to the contamination. Indoor air samples were collected at the Primo Auto Body Shop, the Terra Nova Construction Company, the Arctic Glacier ice-making facility, the Jarabacoa Deli and the apartments above, as well as at the nearby Audrey Johnson Daycare and Intermediate School 384. Outdoor samples were taken from the Evergreen Railroad spur and along the sidewalk on Irving Avenue. Almost all sample results were below action levels established by a group of technical experts from EPA, New York State and New York City.
Where necessary, EPA took action to protect people from exposure in the short-term. At Intermediate School 384, radioactive gas was coming from a hole in an unoccupied storage area. The hole was sealed with concrete and followup sampling results were well below the action level established by the technical experts. At the Terra Nova Construction Company, increased levels were found in a small office. The EPA installed a mitigation system that reduced levels to below the action level.
Additional EPA actions included:
Placement of shielding material, including concrete and lead and steel in under building floors and across (under) the sidewalk to reduce potential exposure.
Installation of systems to reduce or address radioactive gas in the affected interior space of businesses and other measures.
Outreach to the community and local businesses to keep them informed, including holding a public meeting.
Installation of a fence around a vacant parcel of land adjacent to the affected businesses to prevent trespassing onto an area where radiation contamination is present.
The EPA has determined that proposing this site to the Superfund list is the best course of action to protect human health and clean up the contamination. The EPA periodically proposes sites to the Superfund list and, after responding to public comments, designates them as final Superfund sites. Final Superfund designations make them eligible for funds to conduct long-term cleanups. The EPA received a letter from the NYSDEC supporting the inclusion of this site on the Superfund list. Today’s proposal brings the total number of proposed and final sites on the Superfund list in New York to 87. It brings the total for proposed and final sites on the Superfund list in New York City to three.
After sites are placed on the Superfund list, the EPA searches for parties legally responsible for the contamination in an effort to hold them accountable for the costs of investigations and cleanups. The EPA is in the process of identifying parties potentially responsible for the contamination. The EPA has spent about $2 million on the site to date.
To see the Federal Register notice and supporting documents for this site, as well as other proposed and final sites, on the day of publication, visit: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/current.htm.
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