New York City is one step closer to earning its third Superfund site—a radioactive auto body shop shining bright like a cancer-causing diamond in Ridgewood, Queens.
As we noted previously, the site, officially 1125-1139 Irving Avenue, is the location of the former Wolff-Alport Chemical Company, which sold thorium to the government for use on the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission until the 1950s. Today, the EPA officially proposed adding the site to the federal Superfund list, which would raise the total of the state's sites to 87. According to Judith Enck, a regional administrator with the EPA, Wolff-Alport's handling of rare earth metals produced an excess of thorium, which can increase the risk of cancer.
Until recently, the threat was considered sufficiently low-level that no decontamination steps were taken. But regulations change, and now, on second thought, the government has decided that radiation levels are significant enough that “workers at the auto body shop and pedestrians who frequently use the sidewalks at this location may have an elevated risk of cancer.”
A 2009 Health Department survey found that radiation in front of buildings on the site—which include an auto body shop, an ice making facility, a construction company and, chillingly, a deli, to be 75 times higher than what’s found on the average city block. EPA tests found "no immediate threat to neighborhood residents or employees, or customers of the businesses in the effected—with the exception of the Primo Auto Body Shop" Enck said.
And then there's I.S. 384, a public school and daycare center situated just 900 feet from the site. It's also been tested for radiation, though so far, results show it to be "below action levels." Just in case, though, the EPA took initial steps to thwart the radioactive gas apparently seeping from a hole in an unoccupied basement storage area—Enck said the hole was filled with concrete, which should have done the trick. Though the school will not be considered part of the Superfund site, it will be included in future investigations.
“We would not say that there is a health risk today for students or staff," she said, adding that there is "no reason to believe that anybody was ever exposed at a level of concern.” And anyway, isn't "contamination exposure" just another way of saying "character building"?
The proposal will now be open to public comment for 60 days, with the deadline for submitting comments to the agency landing in mid-February. Enck said the odds of the Wolff-Alport site being designated as a Superfund are "very likely," and that the next steps will be to dig down into the ground to assess the contamination before establishing a clean-up plan. So far, she said, the ultimate cost of the project and timeline for cleanups is unclear, though if we know anything about Superfund sites, it could be awhile. In the meantime, auto body workers, just, uh...try not to breathe so much.