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Chemung County urges New York to expand Elmira High School cleanup


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Elmira High School was built on a polluted site once used by Remington Rand.
(Photo: File photo)

Chemung County lawmakers are throwing their support behind efforts to accelerate and expand cleanup efforts at Elmira High School and beyond.

The county legislature Monday unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation to do more to clean up contamination left behind by a century of heavy industrial use.

Most of the high school property falls within the district of legislator Rodney Strange, who said it's time to stop dealing with contamination piecemeal and address it more aggressively.

"This is an issue that's been going on for 40 years. Many times when I was on the school board, we were told by DEC there were no environmental issues there, and no danger to students," Strange said. "The last couple of years, I found if they disturb the ground, it becomes an environmental issue. We’re tying to get the state to clean it up. Gov. Cuomo is the one who can make this go faster. There's no sense endangering the health of students any longer. "

The Elmira City School District bought the South Main Street property in 1977 and opened what was then Southside High School two years later.

Prior to that, the site was used for heavy industrial activity for nearly a century, but public concerns about health effects on students, faculty and others didn't surface until the 1990s.

Unisys, successor to Remington Rand, one of the last major industrial users of the site, signed a consent order with DEC and is paying to clean up the site.

DEC will hold a public information meeting Thursday to update residents on the latest cleanup efforts.

Remediation of the high school property is good, although it has to take place more quickly, Strange said.

In addition, he said officials can't overlook possible contamination of surrounding neighborhoods.

"This is a major issue here on the Southside in my district. There are a lot of unanswered questions whether toxic waste has gone further than just the high school property," Strange said. "The legislature is very concerned about all the properties that neighbor the old Remington Rand plant. This is only the first step. The legislature is committed to following through and making sure the entire area around the school is also investigated and cleaned up."

Former legislator Andy Patros, whose son attended Southside High School, has been leading a local effort to bring more state attention to the issue.

Patros organized a public meeting this spring and invited environmental data analyst Walter Hang, president of Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting Inc., to speak on the issue of lingering pollutants.

Patros applauded the county legislature for hearing resident concerns and demanding the state take more decisive action.

"Their support and passage of the resolution...will be very helpful as the community continues to engage the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health, as well as other local municipalities in the county on this issue," Patros said. "And while this resolution is very important, it's essential to note that the neighborhoods surrounding the school property have never been adequately assessed."