Tag Archives: Environmental Protection Agency

Radioactive Ridgewood site added to Superfund list

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre


After months of planning, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Thursday that a radioactive Ridgewood site has been added to the federal Superfund list, allowing the agency to further look into the site to reduce radiation levels.

“We often think about Superfund sites as being these shuttered, abandoned areas but what has me concerned is that this is a very densely populated area,” Judith Enck, the EPA’s regional administrator said.

The contaminated address of the site is 1129 to 1135 Irving Ave., where there are several businesses, including a deli and an auto shop. But the site was once used as a nuclear testing facility by the Wolff Alport Chemical Company, which no longer exists. The company processed and sold minerals containing a radioactive material called thorium from the 1920s to 1954 at the site.

The EPA first proposed the site be added to the Superfund list in December 2013. Superfund is a federal cleanup program created in 1980 by Congress to investigate and clean up the country’s most hazardous waste sites. But even before the proposal, the EPA worked with local businesses and the community to perform tests and installed a shielding material – made out of concrete, lead and steel – under the floors and sidewalk in 2012 in an effort to reduce the amount of radiation coming out of the site. The efforts have so far cost the environmental agency $2 million and the Superfund designation will allow them to have more funding.

As for what the EPA will exactly do with the new funds is still unknown. The rest of this year will be spent putting together evidence and data on the levels of radiation in the area. The agency will then release “a master plan that will be circulated to the community,” Enck said. But, according to the EPA, the community outreach is unlikely to happen this year.

“We want people who live in this area to give us feedback on our plans. And then once we get that back we will alter it based on what people tell us,” she said.

In the meantime, the community shouldn’t be worried about getting cancer or any other nasty side-effects of radiation, according to Enck.

“There is no immediate threat for people in this area,” she said.

The designation makes Ridgewood site the third Superfund location in New York City. The other two sites are the Gowanus Canal and Newton Creek in Brooklyn.




Radioactive Ridgewood site may get cleaned up

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

People that live and work around a radioactive Ridgewood site may not have to worry for much longer.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering making the area inclusive of 1129 to 1135 Irving Avenue a Superfund site to clean up radioactive contamination seeping from underground, and the agency has already taken some steps to ameliorate the problem.

“There are various federal, state and city assessments that have been made over many years regarding this site,” Elias Rodriguez, an (EPA) spokesperson, said. “The current work is being done to reduce people’s potential exposure.”

The Wolff Alport Chemical Company processed and sold minerals containing thorium from the 1920s to 1954 at the site. The area currently houses six businesses, including a deli, a construction company and an auto repair shop.

Since last year EPA officials have been examining the site more frequently. In September they began preparation for shielding operations, putting in concrete, lead and steel under the businesses and sidewalks to prevent exposure to subsurface gamma radiation, which could be harmful to people.

“The testing indicates that there is no immediate threat to nearby residents, employees or customers of businesses,” said an EPA report. “Exposure, however, to this residual radioactive contamination may pose a health threat under certain long-term exposure scenarios.”

The EPA is considering the site for the National Priorities List, which is a Superfund program for the most hazardous sites in the country.

People working in the area had no idea about the radiation, until EPA officials informed them. The agency had some businesses clear out for a few weeks to apply the shielding materials underground. The shielding process is slated to be completed in mid-December, according to the EPA.

“It’s a fresh start,” said Saldio Hernandez, owner of construction company Terra Nova, which has been on the site for about eight years. “It’s an upgrade to our daily working area. It’s been a headache, but we’re happy that this is being done.”

Even though the EPA is considering the site for Superfund status, it doesn’t mean that it will receive the designation. There is no time period for how long it would take to determine.

If the Ridgewood area gets the status, it would be the third active Superfund site in the city, including the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek in Brooklyn.



Investigate clean up of Newtown Creek

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Congressmember Carolyn Maloney

Indifference to filth and pollution for over a century has mutated Newtown Creek into more of a beast than a beauty.

Beginning in the mid-1800s, contaminants were spewed into Newtown Creek by more than 50 refineries that called the waterway home, including sawmills, lumber and coal yards, fertilizer and glue factories, petrochemical plants and oil refineries. The creek was also used by commercial vessels to transport oil, chemicals, fuel and other raw materials. During World War II, the channel was one of the busiest ports in the nation, and factories continue to operate on its banks to this day.

Congressmembers Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velázquez, Borough President Helen Marshall and Assemblymember Catherine Nolan joined EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck on a boat tour of the Newtown Creek cleanup project on October 11. During the tour, the Queens leaders were taken to the key areas of pollution in the creek.

“For far too long, Newtown Creek has been a disgrace: a toxic dumping ground since the mid-1800s, a blight on our waterways, and the scene of perhaps the largest oil spill of all time – three times the size of the Exxon Valdez,” said Maloney, referencing the Greenpoint oil spill.

In addition to the damage done by industrial pollution, the city began dumping raw sewage into the water in 1856.

As a result of its history, which includes multiple spills, Newtown Creek is among the most polluted waterways in America.

In the early 1990s, New York State declared that the channel was not meeting water quality standards under the Clean Water Act, and since that time, several government-sponsored cleanups have occurred.

Newtown Creek, whose waters wash the shores of both Queens and Brooklyn, was designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September of last year.

The Superfund Program was established by Congress to locate, investigate and cleanup the most hazardous sites across the country. It also provides the EPA with the authority to coerce responsible parties to account for the damage they have done, either by cleaning up the site themselves or by reimbursing the government for all costs associated with the restoration.

This past July, following a year-long examination, the EPA entered into a consent order with six potentially responsible parties to conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study of the creek’s cleanup. Field work for the investigation, which will determine the nature of the pollutants, evaluate any risks to human life or the environment and assess prospective cleanup methods, is scheduled to begin within the next month.

“Restoring the health of both sides of Newtown Creek will give residents of Queens and Brooklyn improved access to the waterfront and make our neighborhoods healthier places to live,” said Maloney.

The EPA will be holding a public information session at LaGuardia Community College, located at 31-10 Thomson Avenue in Long Island City, on Thursday, October 27 from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. to discuss the project.

The investigation could take as long seven years to complete, and the removal of contaminants from Newtown Creek could last an additional 10 years. A preliminary estimate by the EPA approximates the cleanup costs between $300 and $400 million.

The EPA has reported that potentially responsible parties include premier oil companies BP America, Exxon Mobil and Texaco, as well as the City of New York. These, as well as other responsible parties, will be paying for the remedial investigation and feasibility study for the near future.

During initial tests performed by the EPA, harmful contaminants such as pesticides, metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which easily evaporate into the air, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been detected in Newtown Creek.

“The more we find out about this polluted waterway, which affects two boroughs, the more we see the need to move the feasibility study along and remediation, in the form of a massive cleanup, to begin,” said Marshall.