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Residents hear more on LOOW site

by jmaloni
Sat, Jun 26th 2010 06:00 am
Paul Giardina (photo by Bruce Sanders/U.S. Army Corps)
Paul Giardina (photo by Bruce Sanders/U.S. Army Corps)
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by Terry Duffy

Area residents and officials heard more Wednesday on government plans for the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works site.

A multi-part session by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detailed the Corps' dismantling plans of Building 401 at the Niagara Falls Storage Site - the four-story complex fronted by silos on Pletcher Road - which is expected to begin this summer.

Also discussed was the Interim Waste Containment Structure, a 10-acre in-ground cell housing high-level radioactive wastes at NFSS and its future. Residents also heard about a follow-up gap analysis planned for portions of the Lew-Port School District campus this summer.

For the three-dozen or so attendees at the Lewiston Senior Center, the session was for the most part informative. There was discord at times over safety concerns of IWCS in the follow-up workshop session with residents, but also signs of cooperation from Corps reps and a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rep in attendance.

Corps rep John Busse offered a brief history on Building 401, the former steam energy plant that operated during TNT production at LOOW in World War II. It was later used for the storage of radioactive wastes and Boron 10 production from the 1950s to early 1970s.

He said the Corps is currently preparing work plans for the now-stripped but still contaminated structure, and expected those to be complete in late July. Handling dismantlement will be Dem Co., which recently handled demolition of Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo.

Mobilization and pre-demolition activities will follow and continue through late September. Included will be abatement of asbestos, lead-based products and radioactive wastes, the identifying of all hazardous wastes, removal of all animal wastes and a comprehensive radiological survey inside and out, expected to continue through November. Actual demolition will take place from October to early December, followed by post demolition work and final reports.

Busse reported the building and nearby silos will be taken down and removed. Throughout the project, dust and air monitoring will be continuous, areas will be watered to keep down contaminants, areas will be sealed, and all waste streams will be characterized and removed for appropriate disposal. When complete, all that's expected to remain of the complex will be its concrete platform.

Next, Corps rep Michelle Barker provided updates on the IWCS with respect to migration concerns of contaminants at the cell, which houses one-half of the world's known supply of radium. She said a Corps NFSS remedial investigation found no immediate off-site risk; no current off-site migration was evident and limited groundwater contamination seen. "The Corps is committed to monitoring groundwater contamination," said Barker. She told attendees the primary contaminant at the IWCS was uranium, that contamination exists in groundwater off its site, but that it was "at levels at background." She stressed the IWCS was safe.

Barker said the purpose of the RI's findings was to set the stage for future analysis in the Corps RIR Addendum. That document would examine potential sources for groundwater contamination and migration, the potential for discharge, and study the integrity of IWCS with respect to potential for plutonium and fission products.

She closed by saying the IWCS was still functioning as intended, it was still considered safe, and groundwater releases weren't a major concern.

A brief session followed on the Lew-Port study, where Corps rep Mic Sennus said additional analysis would be performed on certain areas of the Lew-Port property found to have "disturbances" from earlier LOOW activity. The Lew-Port campus "was one of the least impacted sites on LOOW, but it was still accessible," said Sennus. He said specific areas off the immediate campus will be targeted and soil borings performed.

Following a mid-point poster session, Corps reps were peppered with IWCS concerns over leakage, groundwater and overall safety at a workshop with residents.

  • Chemist Ann Roberts questioned the high levels of uranium contamination found on the southeast end of the IWCS cell, said the Corps findings did not consider testing of adjacent water lines, suggested it needs to re-evaluate its data and argued for better transparency with residents.
  • Pletcher Road resident Kevin Meyers had questions on illegal dumping at the LOOW site and its impact on accessible pipes still crossing nearby residences and the nearby Lew-Port school district property.
  • Lewiston resident Bob Giannetti, Youngstown resident Vince Agnello and Sanborn resident Norma McQuay all had questions on the structural safety of IWCS in the event of disasters, a factor raised following the 5.0 earthquake in Ontario earlier that day.

To these and others, Corps reps and government officials maintained confidence on the stability and safety of IWCS and LOOW in general. They also said residents' concerns would be followed up on.

Bill Frederick said IWCS today is safe and groundwater was not a concern. Of its future, he added, "Is it something I want to remain? Of course not."

His sentiments were echoed by Corps reps Barker, and Bill Kowaleski, who said feasibility studies are under way for long-term remedies at IWCS.

Paul Giardina, chief of the Radiation and Indoor Air Branch of the U.S. EPA, Region 2 in New York City, said IWCS "is still doing its job," that radon measurements are "below level," and groundwater releases are not occurring. He also said its future performance is uncertain, and that current engineering controls cannot be relied upon.

In his remarks Giardina, whose EPA region works with the Corps in monitoring IWCS, appeared to be the most welcoming with residents in his desires to address both current issues and the cell's long-term future. "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself," said Giardina.

He closed by telling residents to maintain contact with state and federal officials to address the IWCS. Residents were informed many had their representatives at the Wednesday session.

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