New York City has agreed to remediate radioactive materials on the city-owned property located near the former Wolff-Alport Chemical Company facility on Irving Avenue in Ridgewood, and to pay the federal government $1.6 million for costs incurred by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace announced Monday. The Wolff-Alport Company operated at the facility at the location from the 1920s until 1954.
The company’s operations included importing monazite sand that was processed to extract rare earth elements. Residues from the processing of the monazite sands contained radioactive materials, including thorium and uranium, along with their decay products, such as radium. These materials contain radionuclides, which are hazardous substances.
During World War II and in the years that followed, it extracted rare earth elements in such a way that it produced a byproduct sludge that contained thorium, a radioactive element. Before the ill effects of radioactivity were realized, the workers at the company were said to have dumped the sludge into the nearby sewers — causing the radioactive element to spread throughout the immediate area of the site. This practice was ordered stopped by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, Wolff-Alport disposed of these hazardous wastes in the New York City sewer system or buried them in the former facility. Exposure to these radionuclides and their decay products either internally or externally can cause damage to deoxyribonucleic acid and body tissues and can cause an increase in the risk of cancer over a lifetime.
Under a proposed Consent Judgment filed with the Court on Monday, the city of New York will fund and perform remedial work on city property.
“This action protects New York City residents and communities from exposure to hazardous substances including radioactive waste at the Wolff-Alport Site,” Peace said. “This settlement demonstrates that this office and our Environmental Justice Team are committed to addressing environmental concerns, including the removal of hazardous substances from communities that have been disproportionately burdened by environmental health hazards.”
After conducting extensive assessments of the Wolff-Alport Site, EPA added it to the National Priorities List (NPL) in 2014 and issued a Record of Decision in 2017, which sets forth the site remediation plan. The United States lodged a proposed Consent Judgment, which sets forth the terms of the settlement with the City of New York pursuant to the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund statute.
“EPA has collaborated extensively with local, state, and federal partners to address risks posed by this Superfund site since our first actions in 2012. This agreement tackles the continued cleanup of radioactive pollution on the City-owned portion of the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company Superfund site and pays back EPA $1.6 million for its vital work to safeguard public health,” said EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. “Today’s settlement takes us one step closer to completing our cleanup of this site so that one day it will be restored land that is ready for reuse and economic activity.”
The proposed Consent Judgment will remain lodged with the District Court for a period of at least 30 days, and notice of the Consent Judgment will be published in the Federal Register. This will afford members of the public the opportunity to submit comments on the Consent Judgment to the Department of Justice prior to it seeking court approval of the settlement.
“City agencies have been working with EPA for some time now to plan for the clean-up of the sewers and sidewalks contaminated by prior operations of the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company, and we are pleased to have reached an agreement with the federal government on the next steps,” a City Hall spokesperson said. “We remain committed to working expeditiously to remove the hazardous materials that have lingered in city sewers and sidewalks and look forward to EPA’s clean-up of the contaminated facility itself.”