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DEC proposes final clean up strategy for troubled Ithaca Gun site


Local environmental activist Walter Hang holds a jar of used shotgun shells he collected along the face of the cliff next to the Ithaca Falls Gorge, left over from the Ithaca Gun Factory.

New York State officials outlined a final remedy for the Ithaca Gun Factory site adjacent to Ithaca Falls, probably the most notoriously polluted remnant of the city's bygone industrial era.

Tuesday's information session was held with about a month left for public comment on the decontamination proposal, which would include a No Further Action order pertaining to the site. Ithaca Gun Factory was torn down after its final closing in 1986, but left behind a toxic mix of chemicals, carcinogens and most notably lead, that has since been one of the primary environmental headaches the city has had to grapple with.

The DEC has already conducted two Interim Remedial Measures (IRMs) with the removal of contaminated soil to restricted residential Soil Cleanup Objectives (SCOs), and covering affected areas with clean soil in two IRM areas. To date, the site has tested positive several times since 2000 for toxic lead levels, defined as over 400 parts per million in bare soil in areas where children may play by the Environmental Protection Agency, prompting

The new proposal includes institutional controls which will regulate the site's uses to minimize risky behavior that could incur harm from any remaining pollution, including a groundwater use restriction and land use restriction, in addition to regularly scheduled site reviews and an operation and maintenance plan. Engineering controls, which take the form of physical barriers to contain the contamination, include the soil cover system that was already trucked in several years ago. Further engineering controls have not yet been specified by the DEC.

Gary Priscott, of the DEC, said a No Further Action order wouldn't necessarily preclude the department from confronting any harmful levels of lead or other contaminants that are detected in the future, but that the research they have conducted shows the soil in most areas of the site is currently meeting the desired SCOs. At this point, Priscott said, the proposed site management plan should be able to effectively handle foreseeable challenges. Either way, Priscott and the DEC's fact sheet stated the public comments received about the order will be considered before the Record of Decision is released.

The most vocal critic of the proposal was local environmental activist Walter Hang, the president of Toxics Targeting who led the initial charge to clean up the site in 2000 after discovering the contamination. After millions of federal and state clean-up dollars, years of delays and several different clean-up initiatives, Hang once again made waves in 2015 by releasing EPA documents that still declared Ithaca Falls an "imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare," according to the Ithaca Journal.

He urged Priscott to withdraw the No Further Action order, saying there is too much left to be done to allow complacency with what's been accomplished so far.

"A No Further Action shouldn't be warranted until this matter really gets fully resolved, " Hang said to Priscott during the meeting. "We need to continue to remove the pollution."

Hang's comments at the meeting came just hours after he was standing at the base of Ithaca Falls, berating the job done by the DEC and the City of Ithaca to properly rid the Ithaca Gun site of lead materials entirely at one time, allowing residual lead to recontaminate parts of the area that had already been cleaned. For emphasis, Hang collected a jar of spent shotgun shells that had been dumped by the gun manufacturer near the site throughout the years to show the shoddiness of the clean-up process so far.

Hang said he would now be renewing a written request for help from the Environmental Protection Agency, particularly in light of new criteria for the agency's Hazard Rankings which now include Soil Vapor Intrusions, a problem often associated with the gun factory site.

Alderperson Cynthia Brock also attended as a member of the public, and expressed frustration at the stagnation of the clean up after so much time, especially, she said, since the problems have seemed so widely acknowledged.

The public comment period will be open until July 17. No more public meetings have been announced, and anyone wanting to voice their opinion can contact the DEC.