State completes Phelps Dodge waste removal

By Kimberly Predham

Since October 2003, more than 21,000 tons of contaminated soil has been excavated from the hazardous waste site, according to the state DEC, which is in charge of the clean-up effort with the state Department of Health.

Of the waste removed, 15,827 tons of PCBs and lead hazardous soil and debris were found, in addition to 1,255 tons of petroleum-saturated soils and 4,305 gallons of oily water, the DEC said.

The soil removal is the first phase of an estimated four-year effort that includes “capping,” or containment, of the contaminated soil, investigation of Newtown and Maspeth creeks' water and construction of a groundwater treatment center and long-term monitoring system, the DEC said.

This process includes a steel sheet barrier along the Newtown Creek edge of the site to reduce the chance that the site's groundwater, which contains inorganic metals and volatile organic compounds, will contaminate the creek. The groundwater treatment plan will be announced later this year.

According to Tony Nunziato, chairman of Community Board 5's environmental committee, the plan is inadequate.

“All they're doing is 'hot spots,'” he said. “This is a billion-dollar job. They should clean up to a full extent, not a partial extent.”

In 2002, the DEC proposed six alternative plans for removing the hazardous waste from the Maspeth site. Over the objections of community members such as Nunziato, the DEC chose the fifth plan, which is expected to cost $12 million to design and $18 million to implement. Average annual maintenance costs will be $500,000 for the next 30 years.

Some members of the community preferred the sixth plan, which called for the complete removal of all soils on the property and would have cost between $104 million and $229 million.

Residents have long called for a cleanup of the site, which housed a copper-smelting plant from 1888 to the late 1920s, when Phelps Dodge set up a manufacturing business. In 1986, the U.S. Postal Service bought the site, but Phelps Dodge was forced by lawsuit to reacquire the site in 1997 because of its contamination.

The DEC classified the property, between 56th Road and Newtown Creek, a Class 2 Superfund site, meaning that it represents a significant threat to public health and/or the environment. There are five classes of sites, with Class 1 the most polluted and Class 5 the least. There are no Class 1 sites in New York state.

According to a June 2003 report released by the city public advocate's office, disease rates are often higher in areas near Superfund sites.

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