Tonawanda News - TOWN OF TONAWANDA

SUNDAY, November 24, 2002

Plan calls for razing Praxair building

By Tim Schmitt

SUNDAY STAFF

Ralph Krieger is hardly trying to be smug, but the former Linde employee is still unsure why plans to get a contaminated building razed took so long to put in motion.

Building 14, which was used in development of the atom bomb prior to World War II, was the topic of discussion at a recent meeting, which featured former Linde employees, local politicians and representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers.

A plan proposed by the Corps suggests that the building be demolished to end any speculation of contamination.

But Krieger, who was a maintenance worker with Linde, wishes the decision would have been made years ago.

"Do we go with glee because we were right? Absolutely not," said Krieger, who worked at the site for 33 years. "That's not what it's about. This is about protecting the people in the community."

The plan, which is open for public discussion until Friday, presented a total of five alternatives, including: no action, land use controls, further decontamination, further characterization and decontamination and removal.

Project manager Raymond Pilon believes all parties are in agreement in recommending demolition.

"My take is that everybody came up with the same preferred alternative," he said.

Demolition on the building -- which was used for uranium separation during the 1940s, while the company was under a Manhattan Engineer District contract -- is expected to cost nearly $10 million. Roughly the same amount has already been spent on the site, including decontamination of the site from 1996-1998.

But decontamination standards underwent consistent changes. For example, the building was deemed free of any contamination in 1981, but then was determined by the Department of Energy to be contaminated again in 1993.

Krieger, who is the president of FACTS - For A Clean Tonawanda Site - isn't surprised by the changes in policies and believes the site is responsible for what he claims is a high proportion of cancer-related problems.

Krieger spent numerous hours inside and around Building 14 and even painted the building prior to leaving the company in 1998.

"You name it, we did it to that place," he said. "And in all that time, nobody ever came along and said we should check the walls before we got started. Now, as I look back, a whole group of the guys I worked with are dead or very sick with cancer. This just doesn't make any sense."

Although a spokesperson for Praxair, the company that currently uses Building 14, claims the site poses no current danger to employees or area residents, Krieger isn't buying it.

"There have been too many things that have happened," he said. "These guys would retire at 62 and they were dead at 63. There was something wrong."

If the Corps' plan passes as planned -- and Pilon expects just that -- the Corps will purchase the building from Praxair and compensate the company for lost use in the facility. However, Praxair will retain the rights to the property.

Pilon said he would expect the demolition to begin in late 2003 or early 2004.

"We don't want any long-term control," Pilon said.

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Contact Tim Schmitt at 693-1007 or tschmitt@gnnewspaper.com

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