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From on high: the National Lead Site in Colonie.

Still Toxic After All These Years

The National Lead cleanup will take longer than expected, thanks to newly discovered contamination and funding snafus

In the early 1980s, Tom Ellis started fighting to get the National Lead site in Colonie cleaned up. The plant had churned out uranium-enriched munitions and worked with radioactive materials from the early 1930s to the early 1980s and had greatly contaminated the land around it. “Some of the neighbors and former employees and colleagues and I were able to prove they had buried it on the property by literally going out and locating it, finding it and testing it,” explained Ellis. “Up until then, the state said they had no evidence, even though neighbors and workers were telling them they had seen it or participated in it.”

Ellis eventually got his cleanup in 2000, but the job that was scheduled to be finished this year looks like it will now be delayed indefinitely.

According to James Moore, a representative of the Army Corps of Engineers, who is in charge of cleaning up the site, there is so much contaminated material that the funds allotted for the cleanup through the federally funded Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program will not be sufficient to both clean the site and ship out the contaminated materials. In March, it was announced that more contaminated material had been discovered. Moore explained that it should not be surprising that the discovery of more contaminated soil has led to a delay in the project. He noted that because the project was slated to be completed by September, the end of the federal fiscal year, the funding the Army Corps is receiving for next year is not likely to be sufficient to keep the project going. However, Moore said the clean up will be going ahead, and he expects to keep extracting contaminated soil from the site. “Work is continuing, but we will simply not ship the (contaminated) soil,” he explained

Moore said that the soil will be packaged and placed on a pad on an already clean part of the site. There, the soil will be stored until funds become available to ship it to a disposal facility in Idaho. “The most money we spend is on our shipment and disposal of soil,” explained Moore. He stated that transporting the contaminated material from Colonie to Idaho costs $250 per cubic yard. “Times that by many thousands of cubic yards, and the numbers add up very quickly,” he said.

While there are only three acres of contaminated soil left to clean up, Moore noted that it is unclear how much contaminated material is present until work actually begins.

“Delays don’t bother me at all,” said Ellis. “What does bother me is that the feds may be cutting off the funding and leaving the job half done.” Ellis said that he is deeply concerned that if there is a gap between funding, the contractors who are currently working on the site will disperse, and all their expertise, familiarity with the site, and training will be lost.

Ellis also noted that the longer the site remains unclean, with pads of contaminated soil sitting on it, the longer it will remain off the tax rolls for the town of Colonie. Colonie Town Councilman Kevin Bronner echoes Ellis: “It is my understanding that 35 to 40 percent of the material is going to be left onsite, and that outcome is unacceptable. The point is the site becomes a waste storage facility. It is located at one of the gateways to Colonie. We have been trying to fix up a lot of our gateways, and we really don’t want a site like that just sitting there.”

Ellis pointed out that a study of the site’s ground water will likely be delayed, as well as clean up of a neighboring CSX site.

For now, Ellis said that he thinks it is necessary to take political action to make sure funding for the Colonie site is not ignored. He suggested the town of Colonie could pass a resolution asking legislators to secure funding. However, Colonie Town Supervisor Mary Brizzell and Bronner say they were not fully briefed until Monday, after the others had already been briefed on the delay. “They knew about the delay in March, and we haven’t had a full public hearing process,” said Bronner. He said that he has asked the Army Corps to move up a public hearing from October and insisted that most of the work will have been finished by then.

In the meantime, Bronner and Ellis said that it is important to lobby Congress to ensure funding to finish the cleanup. “We need to put pressure on Washington, on senators and the president. We need to make sure that everybody knows that there is concern about the project.”

Realistically, though, Ellis said there is no way of being sure when the cleanup will finally be complete. “We don’t know how long it will be. It could be there till the end of the Bush administration,” he said. “Till we get a president with different priorities.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Unfortunate Honor

Hot and sweaty? Well, it’s not just you. Recently, Old Spice, a deodorant brand for guys, announced its Fifth Annual Top 100 Sweatiest Cities in the United States. And guess what? Albany came in at No. 80. What an honor. The sweat experts of Old Spice said that the ranking “is based on the amount of sweat a person of average height and weight would produce walking around for an hour in the average summer high temperatures for each city.” First place went to Phoenix, where “the average resident loses 26 ounces per hour during a typical summer day.” Seem like a lot? “In less than three hours, the residents of Phoenix collectively produce enough sweat to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool,” the sweat experts said.

One Way to Duck the Question

At a Rose Garden press conference last week, President Bush asked L.A. Times reporter Peter Wallsten if he was “going to ask his question with shades on?” Bush has said that he “needles [reporters] out of affection,” but his so-called display of affection with Wallsten was actually an insult. The Associated Press reported that Wallsten has to wear sunglasses “because he has Stargardt’s disease, a form of macular degeneration that causes vision loss. When Bush found out Wallsten’s condition, he called him later that night to apologize. Wallsten was not annoyed by Bush’s comment since no one in the White House knew about his condition, but he told the Associated Press that he was annoyed that his question was never answered.

Dead Reporters Don’t Talk

In The One Percent Doctrine, investigative journalist Ron Suskind alleges that the United States military deliberately bombed an Al Jazeera office in Kabul, Afghanistan. The latest book from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author seems to support the mounting suspicion that the United States has targeted the world’s largest Arabic news organization for years. In 2003, the United States bombed Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau, killing Tareq Ayoub, and in November 2005, London’s Daily Mirror reported that Bush had expressed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair his desire to bomb Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar.





Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.



Loose Ends

--no loose ends this week



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