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USA EPA pledges to clean up thorium contaminated Ridgewood site

EPA pledges $39M to clean Ridgewood site   Five businesses to relocate when radioactive cleanup work begins.  Thursday, August 3, 2017  by Christopher Barca, Associate Editor 

The Environmental Protection Agency is pouring nearly $40 million into the rehabilitation of a former Ridgewood factory that once produced radioactive materials for the Manhattan Project.

More than three years after the EPA first declared the plot of land on the Ridgewood-Bushwick border between 1125 and 1139 Irving Ave. a federal Superfund site, the agency announced last Friday it plans to spend $39.4 million on extensive, long-term remediation efforts there.

“Today’s comprehensive cleanup proposal addresses potential long-term risks through a combination of response actions,” the EPA’s announcement reads, “including permanent relocation of commercial businesses, demolishing contaminated buildings, excavating contaminated soil and cleaning or replacing contaminated sewers.”

To further discuss the plan, the EPA will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the Audrey Johnson Day Care Center, located at 272 Moffat St., just one block south of the site in question.

The Wolff-Alport Chemical Co. occupied the plot of land in question from 1920 until 1954 and processed imported monazite sand among other chemicals.

Monazite contains up to 8 percent thorium, a radioactive element that the company sold to the federal government for use in the Manhattan Project, the top-secret program aimed at developing the atomic bombs that were eventually dropped on Japan during World War II.

During and after Wolff-Alport’s aiding of the Manhattan Project, the company regularly dumped thorium waste into the sewer system and on its property until 1947, when the Atomic Energy Commission ordered it to stop.

Wolff-Alport continued to sell thorium products to the government until 1954.

The EPA began investigating the level of contamination at the site in 2012, with the agency discovering radon gas leaks at two locations in and around it — in addition to higher than normal contamination levels below public sidewalks and in the sewer system.

About $2 million in short-term remediation efforts to curb the leaking of the harmful gas was spent at the time.

To further rectify the situation, the EPA plans to permanently relocate five businesses -— including a deli, a pair of auto body shops, a construction company and a warehouse — before tearing down the former factory buildings they reside in.

The EPA said it will “support and assist” the relocation of those entities.

Once that is complete, the agency will then excavate about 24,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and dispose of it off-site, eliminating the potential threat of long-term health impacts posed by the radiation.

That solution is something Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri Jr. advocated for years ago. Citing Wolff-Alport’s role in the secretive Manhattan Project, he told the Chronicle in 2014 there may have been operations at the former factory that weren’t ever made public — resulting in more contamination than believed.

“The real approach is to demolish and excavate the entire site,” Arcuri said, “in order to see what the extent of the contamination is.”

Also in 2014, the EPA released a 39-page report about the hazards at the Ridgewood site. While it was strongly worded at times, the report said radiation levels of 1,133 picocuries per gram were observed during one on-site visit.

That amount equates to about one-millionth of a millicure. In comparison, a heart scan produces about 30 millicuries of radiation.

Despite the seemingly low levels of hazardous materials, the EPA plugged a hole in an unoccupied storage area of nearby IS 384, from which radon gas was seeping, in addition to placing lead and steel shields underneath area sidewalks and building floors.

The agency said last Friday that those actions have sufficiently brought down the levels of radiation, while EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez said the school will not be subjected to any further remediation efforts.

“Our sampling and assessment shows that IS 384 is not being impacted by the contamination at Wolff-Alport,” Rodriguez said in a Monday email.

In addition to the Aug. 16 meeting, the EPA is accepting public comments on the proposal through Aug. 28.

They can be emailed to EPA Remedial Project Manager Thomas Mongelli at

August 5, 2017 - Posted by | thorium, USA, wastes

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