FOLLOWING MASSIVE FIRE WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT ABANDONED CHARLESTOWN MALL, SCHUMER, BRINDISI SAY PRIRONMENTAL AND PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT TO SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES; REPS CALL FOR EPA TO IMMEDIATELY INSPECT SITE FOR POTENTIAL QUALIFICATION FOR EMERGENCY RESPONSE PROGRAM
For Years, Charlestown Mall Has Been Plagued With Fires & Vandalism; Abandoned, Century-Old Structure Is Barely Standing After Wednesday’s Fire
Schumer, Brindisi Say Damage To Mall Requires Federal Response; EPA Must Devote All Necessary Resources Until Site Does Not Pose Threat To Environment Or Public Health
Schumer, Brindisi To EPA: Prioritize Safety Of Mohawk Valley And Begin Charlestown Mall Site Inspections
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s fire, the most severe blaze reported at the abandoned CharlesTown Mall, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Congressman Anthony Brindisi today urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately send an On-Scene Coordinator to inspect the site for environmental and public health threats and determine if the location qualifies for the EPA’s Emergency Response Program – which conducts removal actions to protect human health and the environment. Schumer and Brindisi explained the CharlesTown Mall – located on the border between Herkimer and Oneida counties, straddling the Town of Frankfurt and City of Utica – poses an environmental, technical, and financial challenge for the surrounding communities, which the EPA is equipped to handle.
“This isn’t the first time fires at CharlesTown mall have burdened emergency responders in Oneida and Herkimer counties, but after this latest one, it is clear that the potential environmental and public health issues the abandoned mall poses, must be addressed,” said Senator Schumer. “The structure is a century old and because of its age, there may be unknown hazardous substances released due to the damage. As they did with the Glory Days building in Herkimer in 2016, the EPA can act immediately to stave off any potential of another crisis here in the Mohawk Valley.”
“After our brave first-responders stepped up and fought this fire, it is time for the EPA to step in and make sure there is not lasting damage to our communities after this crisis,” Congressman Brindisi said. “The aging building and potentially hazardous chemicals present a real threat to our communities. Our region has seen its fair share of catastrophic fires and we need the resources and boots on the ground to assess and prevent further damage. The safety of our communities depend on it.”
Each year, the EPA’s emergency response program responds to thousands of environmental emergencies. According the EPA, this program provides support when requested or when state and local first responder capabilities have been exceeded and conducts removal actions to protect human health and the environment. This is done by either funding response actions directly or overseeing and enforcing actions conducted by potentially responsible parties. Schumer and Brindisi highlighted that this program was used in 2016 to help the Village of Herkimer remove debris from the collapsed Glory Days building. After the building collapsed, the EPA confirmed that the debris from the razed Glory Days building contained asbestos that the agency assisted in cleaning up
The representatives noted that while the fire fortunately was successfully contained and did not lead to the loss of any life, due to the age of the structure, the EPA should still devote all resources necessary to determining whether or not the site and recent damage poses a threat to the environment or public health. If the site is determined to be releasing or potentially releasing hazardous substances, the EPA would be required to take prompt action.
The CharlesTown Mall has been plagued by fires and vandalism over the years after the structure fell into a state of disrepair during the early 2000s. Charlestown was built in the 1900s and served as a manufacturing center for Savage Arms during the two world wars, and later as headquarters for Sperry UNIVAC. A new owner purchased the property in 1977, and when CharlesTown opened two years later, it was the first outlet center in the state, drawing in masses of customers from all over the state. At its height from 1982-84, the complex housed 52 stores, speciality shops, two restaurants, Off-Track Betting and a food court. By 1987, the number of shops had dropped to 28, and it eventually closed in 1991 and became the CharlesTown Business Complex.
Senator Schumer’s letter to EPA Administrator Wheeler appears below:
Dear Administrator Wheeler
We write to urge the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) to send an On-Scene Coordinator to the abandoned Charles Town Mall site in Upstate New York – which is near a total loss after it was engulfed by a massive fire – to assess conditions and determine if the site qualifies for the EPA’s emergency response program. Thankfully there was no loss of life or injuries and emergency responders did a superb job containing the fire. However the compromised building structure and the smoke released from the fire may pose an environmental and public health threat that the EPA, via its emergency response program, is better suited to handle than local authorities.
The Charles Town Mall – located on the border between Herkimer and Oneida counties, straddling the Town of Frankfort and City of Utica in New York – has been a burden for local officials as fires and vandalism have plagued the site for years. After decades of productive use dating back to the 1900s, the property has been abandoned and in a state of disrepair since the early 2000s. While this was not the first fire at the property, it is by far the most severe. Much of the property has collapsed and smoke from the fire spread for miles. The city of Utica declared a state of emergency as they and state officials monitor air quality. Responding to the damage poses a technical and financial challenge for these communities and requires the EPA’s assistance.
We request that you send an On-Scene Coordinator to the site to determine if actions are needed to address release or threatened release of hazardous substances, which would require prompt action from the EPA. Until it can be determined that the site does not pose a threat to the environment or public health, it is crucial that the EPA devotes all necessary resources immediately to remedy this situation.
Thank you for your attention to this important request. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office.
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