SCHUMER PUSHES FEDS TO EXPEDITE LONG-AWAITED PLAN TO CLEAN UP POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS RADIOACTIVE WASTE UNDERNEATH TONAWANDA LANDFILL – RESIDENTS HAVE WAITED FAR TOO LONG FOR ANSWERS & ACTION ON LEFTOVER URANIUM FROM FIRST ATOMIC BOMB THAT HAS BEEN SITTING THERE FOR DECADES
Millions of Gallons of Radioactive Waste From The Manhattan Project Were Dumped in Tonawanda, Resulting In Significant Amount of Contaminated Soil At Tonawanda Landfill – Fed Scientists Say That If Nothing Is Done To Remediate Area, Toxic Waste Could Soon Become A Hazard to Health
Feds Were Set To Propose Options to Clean Up The Site By The End of 2014, But Residents Are Still in The Dark – Schumer Pushes To Get Plan Out The Door Right Away; Plan Is Needed to Get Remediation Project Moving Forward & Ensure Local Residents Are Not At Risk, Including Nearby School
Schumer Also Pushes For More Funding for Fed Program To Clean Up Radioactive Sites; Program Has Been Woefully Underfunded for Years – There Are 5 WNY Sites With Radioactive Contamination, More Than Any Other Region In Country; Additional Funding Is Needed To Move Remediation Projects Forward
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release a long-awaited plan for cleaning up radioactive waste that has been sitting underneath the Tonawanda Landfill for decades. This waste, which is mostly uranium left over from the days of the Manhattan Project, has contaminated parts of the soil and experts believe it could begin to cause adverse health effects for local residents, including the students at Riverview Elementary School, which is mere feet from the contaminated site, if nothing is done. Schumer, while standing at the home of Russ Hoffmann, who lives right next to the Tonawanda Landfill, said that local residents and the federal government have been aware of this contamination for years, but no plan has been put forward to remediate the site and alleviate fears. The Army Corps was scheduled to develop a series of options for site remediation by the end of 2014, but so far has not produced a plan. Schumer called on the Army Corps to expedite this plan and also launched a push to secure more funding for the federal program that cleans up radioactive sites. Schumer said this program, called the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP), has been woefully underfunded for years, and he said that securing more funding is particularly important to Western New York, which has more radioactive sites in need of remediation than any other region in the country.
“The radioactive waste sitting underneath the Tonawanda Landfill is a hotbed for potential danger, and it is time to get a plan in place to mitigate the risk. Tonawanda residents deserve a plan ASAP that will once and for all get remnants of the first atomic bomb out of their backyards,” said Schumer. “The Army Corps has done an excellent job monitoring the risk at the site, but their most recent assessment made it clear that the Landfill needs to be cleaned up soon or else it could pose a serious risk to people’s health. Mothers and fathers should not have to worry about their kids playing outside or question whether it is safe to send their kids to nearby Riverview Elementary. That is why I am calling on the Army Corps to get their plan for the site out the door right away. It is the best way to alleviate local fears and manage the risk.”
Schumer continued, “There are more sites in Western New York with radioactive waste left over from the Manhattan Project than any other region in the country, and it is unacceptable that the program put in place to clean up these sites has been underfunded year after year. We have five radioactive sites in Western New York – all of which could eventually pose a threat to nearby residents – and in order to clean them all up before they become a serious problem, we must secure more funding for the FUSRAP program. In this next Congress, I will make it clear to my colleagues how important this is for Western New York and will fight tooth and nail to ensure that increasing FUSRAP funding is a priority.”
According to a report conducted by New York State, between 1944 and 1946, millions of gallons of radioactive waste from the Army's Manhattan Project were pumped into underground wells under the Linde Ceramics Plant uranium refinery. When those wells clogged and began to overflow, workers began dumping the waste into a ditch that ran to Two Mile Creek. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, radioactive sediment from Two Mile Creek was dug up and dumped underneath the Tonawanda Landfill, which is a 55-acre piece of land located just north of I-290 on the border between the City of Tonawanda and the Town of Tonawanda. Previous investigations found small areas of soil in the Tonawanda Landfill containing elevated levels of radium, thorium, and uranium.
Even though radioactive waste was dumped at the Tonawanda Landfill over many years, it was not discovered until the early 1990s when the Department of Energy (DOE) conducted a radiological survey of the property. As a result of the high levels of radioactive waste that this survey uncovered, a portion of the Landfill, along with the adjacent Mudflats, was designated a FUSRAP property. FUSRAP was initiated in 1974 to identify, investigate and clean up or control sites through the United States that had become contaminated from the nation’s early atomic weapons and energy programs during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Since being designated a FUSRAP site, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which is responsible for FUSRAP, has conducted two studies to determine whether the radioactive waste poses a threat to human health. The original baseline assessment found that there was no risk to human health, but a second study, which was performed in 2010 after questions were raised about some of the data used in the first study, made it clear that there is a potential risk, particularly if the radioactive waste becomes exposed due to erosion of the soil. As a result of the findings of the second study, the USACE is currently developing and evaluating options to mitigate the potential future risks to human health. Schumer said USACE was scheduled to complete this evaluation in 2014, but local residents have yet to receive any plan or proposal.
Schumer urged the USACE to finalize the potential remediation options and make them public as soon as possible. Schumer said that determining a path forward to contain and clean up the radioactive waste at the Tonawanda Landfill is particularly important because this site is close to so many residences and a nearby school. Bordering the landfill to the north is a major residential neighborhood in the City of Tonawanda, and just feet away from the landfill is Riverview Elementary School. Schumer said that residents are concerned that rainwater runoff from the landfill could be contaminated, and at the very least they are concerned that if there is no remediation plan put in place soon, natural erosion of the land could expose the radioactive material buried underneath. Schumer said that a plan must be put in place right away so that children in nearby neighborhoods can play outside without their parents fearing for their safety due to what is buried in the ground.
Schumer was joined by Anthony Caruana, Supervisor, Town of Tonawanda; Rick Davis, Mayor, City of Tonawanda; and local residents who live near the landfill, including Joyce Hogenkamp, president of the Citizens United for Change, and Russ Hoffmann.
“There were five properties in Tonawanda that were designated as FUSRAP sites. Only some have been remediated. For decades we have been waiting for a plan and action to remediate all of them,” said Anthony Caruana, Supervisor of the Town of Tonawanda. “We are greatly appreciative of Senator Schumer's advocacy to fight for increased funding for the FUSRAP program to remediate remaining sites in our town and across New York State.”
“We have watched friends and neighbors move out of our neighborhood because there was no action on this issue, and because they feared for their health and safety,” said Rick Davis, Mayor of the City of Tonawanda. “Thank you to Senator Schumer for coming here today and for recognizing the importance of cleaning up this site to improve the quality of life for City of Tonawanda residents.”
“On behalf of the neighborhood residents and homeowners, we are very happy that Senator Schumer is here today to support us in our effort to get a clean-up plan in place quickly, and for his work to increase funding to prevent any further delays for cleanup of sites like these in Tonawanda,” said Joyce Hogenkamp, president of Citizens United for Justice. “We applaud his efforts in helping to make Tonawanda environmentally clean, and a safe place for all of us to live and raise our families.”
“I became involved with this effort because of my five year old grandson,” said Russ Hoffmann, whose backyard at 85 Hackett Street abuts the contaminated landfill. “I believe it is our duty to leave behind a legacy of a clean environment for him and for future generations. We thank Senator Schumer for stepping in to ask the Army Corps to release a cleanup plan, and for increased funds to clean up sites like this.”
Schumer also launched his push to secure more funding in the federal budget for FUSRAP. Schumer noted that there are five sites in Western New York with radioactive waste that are currently being monitored by the USACE and going through the remediation process. In addition to the Tonawanda Landfill site, the four others are: the 70-acre former Guterl Specialty Steel Site, also known as Simonds Saw and Steel Corporation, located in Lockport; the 135-acre Linde Site in Tonawanda, which is currently owned and operated by Praxair, Inc.; The Niagara Falls Storage Site, a 19-acre federally owned site, located in Lewiston; and the Seaway Site, a 93-acre commercial landfill also located in Tonawanda.
Schumer said that the FUSRAP program currently includes 24 active sites in 10 states, and the five sites in Western New York are more than any other region. Schumer said that the prevalence of these sites in Western New York – and the lack of progress on some of them – is one of the main reasons he is pushing for more funding for FUSRAP. Funding for FUSRAP stayed relatively level between $140 million and $150 million a year since 1997, when the USACE began administering the program, and reached a peak of $240 million in 2009, with additional funds provided as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Since 2012, however, funding has decreased significantly, falling below $110 million. In fact, this year, the President only requested $100 million for the program in the FY15 budget. Schumer said that this downward trend is unacceptable and leaves Western New York – more than any region in the country – at risk, and he vowed to push for increased funding as part of the upcoming budgeting process for FY16.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to the USACE is included below:
Dear Assistant Secretary Darcy,
I write today to express concern over delays in finalizing a mitigation plan for a site included in the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) located in the Town of Tonawanda. The site, which is located underneath the Tonawanda Landfill, has been in the FUSRAP program since 1992 but the Army Corps has yet to release a feasibility plan to clean-up the site and mitigate the potential risk the site poses to human health. In June of 2012 the Baseline Risk Assessment for the site was updated following a study by the Army Corps to include a need for mitigation because erosion at the site could expose residents to contaminated material. In order for any mitigation plan to move forward the Army Corps must release their feasibility plan, and so I am urging you to work with the Buffalo District to move this plan forward as quickly as possible.
By the Army Corps own timeline the plan was supposed to be released by the end of 2014, and yet no feasibility plan has been put forward. Given the lengthy timeline involved with securing funding for mitigation it is critical that the Army Corps release the feasibility plan as soon as possible. While I understand the complex nature of these sites and the need to do thorough investigation, residents of Tonawanda have been waiting far too long for action at this site. In addition, given the site's proximity to residential neighborhoods, expediting the planning process and moving forward with implementation of a mitigation plan should be a top priority for the Army Corps.
I appreciate your attention to this issue, and your help in advancing the clean-up of this site. Should you have any questions or need further information please do not hesitate to contact my office.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
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