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Ithaca Falls lead contamination cleanup declared finished by NY DEC


Ithaca City School District David Brown, chief administration officer, talks about lead in the water during a meeting at Caroline Elementary School on Feb. 10. SIMON WHEELER / Staff Video

The former Ithaca Gun factory site, to the right of Ithaca Falls. The concrete platform on the island feature and the raceway are to the right of the falls and to the left of the chimney connected to the main site by a bridge as seen in May of 2014 prior to the work over the winter of 2014-15 to clean up the island feature.
(Photo: SIMON WHEELER / Staff Photo)

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Wednesday that no further action will take place at the Ithaca Falls Overlook, where soil tested positive for lead in 2015 and water tested positive for trichloroethylene (TCE) in 2013.

According to the release, the contaminated area was excavated multiple times over the years, removing over 2,000 tons of contaminated soil and more than 300 tons of concrete from the site. A cover was also constructed over northern portion of the Western Accessway and the Former Walkway to replace the excavated soil.

The contaminated area was previously home to Ithaca Gun Factory. Millions of dollars have been gone into cleaning up the area, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared an "imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare" in 2015.

Despite these massive cleanup efforts, community activist and President of Toxics Targeting, Inc. Walter Hang said the site is not entirely rid of its pollutants.

Hang said that with each cleanup effort, the entire polluted area was not excavated. He said the overlook in particular had not been excavated, and when water from the overlook flowed down, Hang said the previously cleaned areas below became contaminated once again.

Hang called the DEC's "no further action" decision "tragic," saying that when he has visited the overlook, he can see evidence of lead contamination with his naked eye. Hang's photos of the site can be viewed on Toxics Targeting's website.

"How can you stand by knowing that people and little kids are running through contaminated water," Hang said of local and state government. "We are supposed to care about these issues. This is not trivial."

Assistant Commissioner of Public Affairs for the DEC Sean Mahar, though, called Hang's comments "ridiculous."

"The insinuation by Mr. Hang that all of this contamination remains and won’t be cleaned up is ridiculous," Mahar said.

He continued, "At the end of the day, we take our responsibility very seriously to clean up contaminated sites. When we make an action today, it’s after significant work. If any contamination is discovered in the future, people will go in and clean it up. Period."

Jill Montag, public information officer with the New York State Department of Health, said via email that the DEC and DOH selected 'no further action' as the final remedy for the site after having taken measures "to remediate the contamination."

"Institutional and engineering controls have been put in place to limit the potential for people to come into contact with remaining residual contamination," Montag said.