The Buffalo News - Northern Suburbs - TOWN OF TONAWANDA

Accord reached on razing contaminated building

By T.J. PIGNATARO

News Northtowns Bureau

11/20/2002

Six years and $20 million after the federal government embarked on a cleanup of a radiation-contaminated building in the Town of Tonawanda, it must be torn down.

That was the consensus of former Linde Air Products employees, current Praxair management, area legislators and the Army Corps of Engineers during a meeting Tuesday to discuss a $10 million plan to raze Building 14 on the former Linde Air Products property on East Park Drive.

"Removal is the most expensive alternative. However, this provides long-term permanence and it provides certainty that there is no contamination left on site," said Ray Pilon, project manager for the Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing cleanup efforts.

The former Linde site, now Praxair, was one of several locations in the United States where the federal government conducted research to develop the atomic bomb during the 1940s. Remnants from the uranium separation that occurred as part of the project resulted in higher radiation levels at the site.

Building 14, built by the company in the mid-1930s, was used by the federal government for studies of uranium separation.

Corps officials and Praxair site manager Dennis Conroy told the gathering in Holmes Elementary School that the contamination poses no health risks to those who work in the building or to neighbors. The contaminated areas are confined to some structural high beams, below the concrete foundation, and in a major utility tunnel under the building.

"We know Praxair is absolutely safe to work in under current conditions," Conroy said. "We're also absolutely convinced that neither Building 14 nor any other area of the site posed the slightest risk to human health or the environment. Removal of all contaminated materials and soil from the Town of Tonawanda site will provide the final margin of assurance that employees and the community will be protected from potential radiological exposure."

Nevertheless, despite sharing the sentiments to demolish Building 14, several former employees of Linde criticized officials for not tearing it down much earlier and suggested that many former workers there became ill because of working there.

Thomas P. Schafer, a third-generation employee of Linde who worked there from 1974 to 1989, attributes his father's death and his own illness to the workplace.

"My first job when I was 18 years old was working in Building 14," Schafer said. "In 1990, they thought I had leukemia because my white blood cells were through the roof. There's no doubt in my mind it was the Linde site. There are hundreds and hundreds of people I worked with, dead of cancer and the same types of cancer - brain tumors, bladder cancer, lower intestinal cancer."

Ralph Krieger, a former union president who worked at the plant for 33 years, agreed.

"Don't anyone go out of here thinking the Linde employees aren't sick. Because they are," Krieger said. "Building 14 should have been demolished years ago. We told them that from Day One."

The Corps of Engineers will continue to take written comments from the public until Nov. 29. A final record of decision will be made on the issue in 2003, Pilon said.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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