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Queens Chronicle

Superfund status likely for Ridgewood location

EPA seeks tag for the radioactive site of a former chemical plant

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Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:36 am, Thu Dec 26, 2013.

Those who frequent the area between 1125 and 1139 Irving Ave. in Ridgewood might not be glowing green or growing extra limbs, but they are being exposed to radioactivity, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA released a 39-page report this month detailing the exact nature of the area’s radioactive profile, and the agency has recommended that the site be the third in the city and 87th in the state to be added to the federal Superfund list of highly contaminated sites.

The Wolff-Alport Chemical Co. occupied the plot of land from 1920 until 1954 and processed imported monazite sand among other chemicals.

Monazite contains up to 8 percent thorium, a radioactive element, and the company sold thorium to the federal government for use in the Manhattan Project, according to media reports and Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri.

However, the EPA report states that Wolff-Alport sold thorium products to the Atomic Energy Commission from 1948 to 1954, nine years after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan in World War II.

Wolff-Alport continued to dump thorium waste into the sewer system and on its property until 1947, when the Atomic Energy Commission ordered the company to stop, according to a Dec. 11 EPA press release.

A deli, Los Primos Auto Repair, warehouses and IS 384 sit on or near Wolff-Alport’s former lot, and while the EPA has already completed radiation minimizing efforts, there may still be a threat to those in the area.

“The site and related thorium-232 gamma radiation ... may pose a danger to both the large population in the surrounding area and residents, workers and students in close proximity to the former WACC facility,” the EPA report states. “Gamma radiation was detected along Irving Avenue where there is pedestrian and worker traffic.”

The owner of the deli and the employees of Los Primos Auto Repair shop refused to comment on the matter, while the latter’s owner could not be reached for comment.

The EPA press release details the mitigation efforts already undertaken by the agency, including plugging a hole in an unoccupied storage area of IS 384 that radioactive gas was seeping from, as well as the placement of lead and steel shields underneath area sidewalks and building floors.

“The EPA has taken steps to protect workers and nearby residents from immediate exposure to radiation,” EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck said in the statement. “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.”

While the EPA report is strongly worded at times, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center radiation safety officer Dr. Rob Solomon says the radiation levels of 1,133 picocuries per gram, equal to one-millionth of a millicurie, measured at the former Wolff-Alport location are nothing to be concerned about.

“When we do a bone scan, we inject 25 millicuries. Heart scans can be 30 millicuries or more,” Solomon said. “Based on that framework, I’m not worried. It doesn’t make me nervous.”

Arcuri said that while the site doesn’t worry him to a great extent, there were operations at the former factory that the public hasn’t been informed of.

“We’ll never know the full truth from the federal government, “Arcuri said. “Whether it’s because they hid or destroyed documents about the factory, we don’t know.”

He also believes the only true way to precisely discover how radioactive the area is would be to raze the entire plot.

“The real approach is to demolish and excavate the entire site,” he said, “in order to see what the extent of the contamination is.”

According to the EPA, which has spent $2 million on investigating the site thus far, the state Department of Environmental Conservation supports the site’s addition to the Superfund list and the public’s input is welcome as well.

When the proposal is published in the Federal Register in the next few days, the EPA says, the public will have 60 days to make comments on the EPA’s website.

The agency says it is also in the process of trying to identify those responsible for the site’s contamination in order to hold them financially accountable.

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