Queens Chronicle, May 28th, 2018

FULL TEXT:

The Environmental Protection Agency has offered some details on the pending cleanup of the former Wolff-Alport Chemical Co. lot in Ridgewood — a federal Superfund site.

Two weeks after the Chronicle reported that it was unclear when remediation work would commence at the contaminated Irving Avenue property, EPA Public Affairs Region 2 Director Mary Mears told the paper that the $40 million project is in the design phase.

“We are currently doing the engineering work needed to do the cleanup,” Mears said. “Detailed cleanup plans are developed during the remedial design. Remedial design includes development of engineering drawings and specifications for a site cleanup.”

Wolff-Alport occupied the plot of land in question from 1920 until 1954 and processed imported monazite sand.

Monazite contains up to 8 percent thorium, a radioactive element that the company sold to the federal government for use in the Manhattan Project, the top-secret program to develop the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan to end World War II.

But the company regularly dumped thorium waste into the sewer system and on its property until 1947.

The EPA began investigating the location — which a deli, auto body shops, a construction company and a warehouse now call home — in 2012 when radon gas leaks were discovered there, officially declaring it a Superfund site a year later.

Last fall, the EPA ordered the permanent relocation of the businesses from the premises, leading up to the demolition of the former factory buildings they reside in.

The contaminated soil underneath them will also be excavated and removed, while sewer infrastructure at the site will be replaced.

Mears confirmed that because of earlier EPA short-term remediation, there is no immediate threat to nearby residents, employees or customers of the businesses. But the site still requires a cleanup, something she said the agency is deep into planning.

Over the last few months, Mears noted, the EPA has been finalizing demolition plans, designing the debris disposal process, hired a relocation specialist from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and created cost estimates for the businesses’ relocation.

Those aspects of the plan will be completed by October. But when the cleanup can begin, however, is “dependent on funding availability.”

“After the remedial design phase, EPA’s cleanup can begin, pending the availability of funds,” Mears said.

In cases where no existing company can be held financially responsible for a cleanup, the federal government has to pick up most of the tab, along with the state.

But from 1980 to its expiration in 1995, a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries helped generate more than $4 billion specifically used for Superfund cleanup

Earlier this month, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens) introduced legislation to reinstitute that fee, citing the sizable cost of remediation efforts such as Wolff-Alport, as well as President Trump’s proposed slashing of the EPA’s Superfund cleanup budget by 30 percent.

Mears said the agency does not comment on proposed legislation, but it was working closely with Velazquez’s office on the agency’s efforts in Ridgewood.

In a Nov. 27, 2017 letter to Velazquez, EPA Regional Administrator Peter Lopez said the agency is hard at work trying to help the businesses that are being relocated.

The EPA, he said, has set aside $1.12 million for those entrepreneurs, while also tasking the Army Corps of Engineers to help them search for comparable properties.

“In addition to complete coverage of their moving expenses, the business tenants may be eligible for reestablishment expenses up to $25,000 for expenses actually incurred in relocating and reestablishing the enterprise at a replacement site,” the letter reads.

Business owners can use that payment, Lopez said, to help pay for repairs, new signage and advertising, as well as the cost of rent and utilities for up to 42 months.

They will also be able to return to the Wolff-Alport site once it has been remediated. But the entrepreneurs would have to be the ones to rebuild there, not the EPA.

“Please note that it will be quite a number of years before the remediation is completed and any redevelopment takes place,” his letter warns.

 

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