The Buffalo News

DEC to survey area for radioactive material

By Mark Ciemcioch


Updated: 05/09/07 6:41 AM

The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Tuesday discussed plans to survey a City of Tonawanda neighborhood bordering a landfill with radioactive elements.

But residents who attended a forum on the issue Tuesday evening in Tonawanda High School continued to push for more testing and remediation.

The Town of Tonawanda landfill, which lies in the northwest section of town just a few feet from a number of houses on Hackett Drive, has existed for many years.

At several points, radioactive items were dumped, including uranium, thorium and radium.

Residents in the surrounding area have become greatly concerned about the issue since late last year, when the town actively began using the landfill again and may have possibly disturbed radioactive elements.

Officials from the city, town, DEC and the Army Corps of Engineers have held a series of public meetings over the past few months to talk about the situation. At the latest one, the DEC said its testing process, due to begin next week, includes the surface around the backyards of Hackett Drive.

City of Tonawanda Alderman Rick Davis commended the DEC for its initiative but wants any radioactive survey expanded to other streets in the neighborhood, as well as testing for any volatile organic substances in the ground.

"[The DEC] stepped up to the plate," he said. "But if we're going to do this survey, let's do it right. These [elements] can be just as deadly, if not more."

Erie County Legislator Michele Iannello also called for more testing, as well as the complete remediation and removal of the radioactive material in the landfill.

Barbara Youngberg, representative of the DEC, said she would pass along those suggestions to her supervisors in Albany. However, she believes the plan for a "walk-over" survey, which would only test the immediate surface area, should be sufficient to learn if residents were exposed to radioactive elements in the ground.

"These folks are concerned about their yards," she said. "We don't have a strong suspicion there is radioactive material there, but it will put people's minds at rest. If we find material similar to the landfill, we will certainly talk to the [Corps of Engineers] about that."

The survey will also include testing at the nearby Riverview Elementary School. Hackett Drive resident and School Board member Joyce Hogenkamp pushed for more testing throughout the school as well, including taking air samples.

"The parents want to know that when their children walk out every morning that they're safe," she said. "What is the DEC going to do about it?"

"We're doing what we can," Youngberg said.

Residents are also concerned about studies that point to a higher-than-usual percentage of people suffering from cancer around the area. However, one health official noted that many factors contribute to the onset of cancer and may not necessarily be related to environmental causes.

Copyright 2007 The Buffalo News.