Tonawanda News

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Cleaning Up Praxair

Despite objections by area residents, Army Corps officials insist radiation

levels on the Praxair site are low - and demolition will only reduce the risk

By Paul Lane

Tonawanda News

The Army Corps of Engineers is set to take down another structure on Praxair's Town of Tonawanda property, and officials are taking steps to ensure safety at the plant and in the neighboring area.

The Corps will begin demolishing Praxair's Building 14 on March 31. The build is one of five structures declared unsafe because of Radiation that seeped into the ground while working with uranium ore during the Manhattan Project.

Although the topic has been red hot in adjacent neighborhoods, Corps officials say testing has concluded there's no threat in the once-dangerous materials.

"It became apparent that there was no concern," said Ray Pilon, project manager for the Corps. "We do it safe or don't do it at all."

A series of devices which measure gamma radiation are stationed across the property and outlying areas, said James Prowse, certified health physicist and senior consultant for Shaw Environmental Inc. These devices detect whether radiation is within 10 percent of the occupational limit for exposure to radiation, he said.

Readings indicate radiation levels to be at less than 1 percent of the occupational limit, he said.

Also, continuous air readings taken since 1997, when the project began, show radiation levels in the area to be minimal, he said.

"Compared to background radiation, it's indistinguishable," he said.

Praxair has employees that will be working within a few feet of the site, but Site Manager Dennis Conroy isn't concerned.

"I have no intention of moving anybody," he said. "I don't need to."

Site neighbors have nothing to fear either, Conroy said. Tests were conducted last year by Joseph Gardella of the University at Buffalo on soil at Holmes Elementary School and on Praxair property immediately bordering the school. No contaminates were found.

Praxair is encouraging the Project because they want remnants of the Manhattan Project, conducted on that site when it was owned by Union Carbide in the 1940s, gone, Conroy said.

"We don't want to be left with the only blemish on an otherwise clean complexion."

The project will take about 15 weeks and will involve removing asbestos, removing paneling, taking apart the frame piece by piece and removing contaminated soil, said Dan Williams, who is working with the project.

The slow nature of the work will create little, if any dust, Conroy said. "There won't be any bulldozers or big boom," he said.

After removing the building, soil will be taken out by a "scratch and sniff" method, Conroy said. In this, experts scan a layer of soil for radioactivity. If it's declared unsafe, they remove the layer and repeat the process until the soil is clean, he said.

The soil then is taken in sealed containers to sites in California, Texas and Utah via rail, he said.

Steps are taken to control dust that may come off the site and to make sure nothing gets into ground water. Water is collected and stored separately, according to Jim Boyle, who's working on the project.

"We're not letting that run off into the storm water or the river," he said. The Corps also is considering spraying a fine mist around the entire site that would collect any dust that may get into the air, he said.

Those working in the hole are required to wear protective suits. Anyone leaving the dig site must clean up in a trailer and go through a screening to make sure they aren't carrying any dangerous materials, Prowse said.

Anyone outside the hole is required only to wear a hard hat and goggles. "The workers in the hole don't even have to wear masks," Conroy said.

The Building 14 site and other site the Corps has worked on are filled in with crushed rock, Conroy said. When the Corps is done, Praxair will begin a five-year remediation project and build new structures over the formerly contaminated land, he said.

The Corps is spending more than $10 million on the Building 14 project, Conroy said, and more than $100 million overall at Praxair.

Everyone involved in the project will take every precaution, Pilon said. Safety meetings are held daily, and testing is done before any action is taken, he said.

Testing results are available at the Town of Tonawanda Library on Delaware Road.

"Decisions are made on scientific data," Pilon said. "There's never been any problem, and there won't be one."

Contact Paul Lane at 693-1000, Ext. 115 or lanep@gnnewspaper.com

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