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Queens Chronicle

Superfund status for Irving Avenue location

Radioactive former Wolff-Alport Co. plot named a hazardous waste site

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Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:56 am, Thu May 22, 2014.

It may not be as dangerous as Chernobyl, but the Environmental Protection Agency has officially declared a Ridgewood block to be a radioactive, hazardous waste site.

In December, the EPA recommended the plot of land between 1125 and 1139 Irving Ave., the former site of the Wolff-Alport Chemical Co., be added to the federal Superfund list of contaminated sites.

A small plot at 1514 Cooper Ave., also used by the defunct company, is part of the decision, as well.

After five months of consideration, the agency officially added the site, where a deli, an autobody shop, a school and warehouses sit, to the list last Thursday.

While declaring the plot a hazardous waste site may sound unnerving, the EPA proclaimed, in a statement, that the area poses no immediate danger to the surrounding community.

“Testing indicates that there is no immediate threat to nearby residents, employees or customers of businesses in the affected area along Irving and Cooper avenues,” the statement read.

Wolff-Alport, which occupied the plots of land in question from 1920 to 1954, processed and sold imported monazite sand among other chemicals to the federal government for use in the Manhattan Project.

Monazite contains up to 8 percent thorium, a radioactive element that emits dangerous radon gas as it decays, and the company dumped thorium waste into the sewer system and on its property until 1947, when the Atomic Energy Commission ordered it to stop.

Wolff-Alport continued to sell thorium products to the government until 1954.

In 2012, the EPA began assessing the site to discover the plot’s exact contamination levels.

During its survey, radioactive gas seeping from a hole in the basement of IS 384 was sealed with concrete, shielding material was placed underneath area sidewalks and a fence was constructed to keep trespassers out of a vacant, radioactive parcel of land.

About $2 million has been spent on contamination mitigation at the site, so far.

“By placing the Wolff-Alport Chemical Co. site on the Superfund list,” EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck said, “the EPA can address the contamination to protect people’s health in the long-term.”

In December, an EPA report stated that 1,133 picocuries per gram of thorium-232 gamma radiation, equal to one-millionth of a millicurie, had been measured.

Jamaica Hospital Medical Center radiation safety officer Dr. Rob Solomon said the levels did not pose a threat to public health.

“When we do a bone scan, we inject 25 millicuries. Heart scans can be 30 millicuries or more,” Solomon said last month. “Based on that framework, I’m not worried.”

With the decision, the Wolff-Alport site becomes the 87th in New York State to be added to the federal Superfund list or recommended for the designation, the EPA said.

It is the third area in New York City to be given Superfund status, alongside sites along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn and the Newtown Creek on the Brooklyn-Queens border.

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