The CCM property may be part of the “Rochester burial area,” where the University of Rochester had buried animal carcasses that had been used for testing the effects of radiation. Although the DOE is reported to have excavated the University of Rochester burial area in 1972 to a depth of 10 feet and to have removed 512 cubic yards of soil, drums, and debris from the site, the results from the Corps of Engineers testing would indicate that this area is far from decontaminated.

The Corps of Engineers report indicated that, in the testing, a total of eight samples contained measurable plutonium. Other radionuclides detected include strontium-90 and radium. These samples included an animal bone, laboratory debris, and subsurface soil samples. The plutonium and strontium contamination is assumed to be from the University of Rochester radiation experiments, while the radium would have come from the storage of uranium refining waste, known as K-65 residue. The findings by the Corps indicate that this waste is not a potential danger to the public because the surface soil “exhibited near background levels” and because the site is currently “inaccessible to the public.” On the other hand, excavation of the site, as Chemical Waste Management proposed, would bring to the surface contaminated subsurface soil. This would expose both workers and the public to soil contaminated with some of the most carcinogenic substances known to human.

The issue of contamination at the Chemical Waste Management property was brought up at a press conference, called by Residents for Responsible Government, on September 17, at a cemetery just a mile west of the hazardous landfill. On the same day, Chemical Waste Management hosted an open house for the local residents. Vince Agnello, president of Residents for Responsible Government, asked Gov. George Pataki for his intervention concerning Chemical Waste Management’s request to obtain an excavation permit to dig on the site, despite New York State Department of Health orders prohibiting digging on this radiologically contaminated site. Flanking Agnello at the press conference were local officials, union representative Roger Cook, and two state representatives, Senator George Maziarz and Francine DelMonte.

This fight pits some weighty state and federal agencies against each other. The opposing forces include the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation against the Residents for Responsible Government, the Niagara County Legislature, and the New York State Department of Health. The disputed site is part of the original Lake Ontario Ordnance Works, which the federal government, during and after World War II, used to store “Manhattan Project” wastes. In 1972, the state department of health prohibited the release of this land into private hands for unrestricted use. Chemical Waste Management began operating this landfill site in 1988. The Department if Energy decommissioned the site and released it for unrestricted use.

A letter from the state department of health, dated August 19, stated, “Based on the documentation provided by Chemical Waste Management to date, as well as our review of available data, we are unable to substantiate the Department of Energy’s conclusion that the affected properties can be released for unrestricted use.” It further requests that, “since there is a potential for residual soil contamination and potential ground water contamination, the department of health must evaluate current site conditions before we can approve earth moving activities. Therefore (the department of health) requests that Chemical Waste Management submit a plan for monitoring ground water for radioactive contaminants for developed areas and a plan for air monitoring for currently active areas.”

Chemical Waste Management has agreed to submit soil and water samples for radiological testing to a lab in St. Louis, Mo. The EPA has refused to review the Department of Energy surveys of the site, and it has complimented the state’s department of environmental conservation for the fine job that it is doing in managing the site. The Niagara County legislature passed a resolution on September 7 requesting that a full State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process, including public hearings, be used regarding the expansion of the Chemical Waste Management site.

Maziarz is planning to make personal contact with the governor to persuade him to intervene on behalf of the local residents. If this does not work, Agnello is prepared to start local petition drives and rallies to block the proposed Chemical Waste Management expansion. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ published a report in June indicating that it found plutonium and other radioactive materials at the Chemical Waste Management property in the Lewiston-Porter section of Niagara County, despite Department of Energy assurances that the site was safe for unrestricted use as a landfill. The section of the CCM property that the radioactive materials had been found had been designated as “vicinity properties G.” The DOE had previously listed it as either uninvestigated or as incompletely investigated.