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Letter to Gov. Cuomo Requesting That He Reject DEC's Fundamentally Inadequate Proposed Interim Remedial Measure for Morse Chain Industrial Corporation in Ithaca, NY

Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
The Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Re: Proposed IRM for Morse Industrial Corporation Site No. 755010, Operable Unit 02C, 620 Aurora Street, Ithaca, NY 14850


I write respectfully to request that you reject the above-referenced Proposed Interim Remedial Measure (IRM) pursuant to the New York State Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site Program.

See: Morse Industrial site

Operable Unit 02C is reportedly a massively contaminated 60-acre abandoned industrial site with extensive groundwater, surface water, soil and soil gas vapor intrusion hazards that exceed applicable regulatory clean up requirements as well as indoor air protection guidelines.

Extraordinarily high levels of chlorinated solvents, toxic metals, Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons and a seven-foot layer of contaminated oil are documented at the site. As a result, it is designated a Classification 2 site: "significant threat to public health or the environment; action is required."

The proposed IRM would require the removal of a mere 3,600 cubic yards of contaminated surficial dirt. This proposal is ludicrously inadequate to safeguard public health and the environment because it ignores groundwater, non-aqueous phase liquid, surface water and soil gas vapor intrusion hazards documented over widespread areas of the site as well as the area around it.

This makes no sense given that the site has hundreds of residential homes around it, is proposed for on-site residential housing development and is documented to have polluted Six Mile Creek, a nearby waterway that is a major tributary to Cayuga Lake, the source of drinking water for more than 30,000 residents.

Morse Chain Must be Comprehensively Remediated Without Further Delay

Given these fundamental shortcomings, I write first and foremost to request that you require your Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to make sure that the responsible party remediates without further delay all groundwater, surface water, non-aqueous phase liquid, soil and soil gas vapor intrusion hazards on as well as around the site in strict compliance with regulatory requirements.

This must be achieved by removing the sources of toxic pollution, especially non-aqueous phase liquids and high-level groundwater contamination in the fractured shale zone that extends to 19 feet below grade surface.

Please Designate Morse Chain a Class 1 Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site

Given that DEC has utterly failed to remediate this site's extensive toxic hazards for 32 years, I request that this site be designated a Class 1 site because it indisputably fulfills that Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site Registry requirement:

1) "contamination constitutes a significant threat to public health and the environment; and

2) the significant threat to public health and the environment is causing, or presents an imminent danger of causing, either irreversible or irreparable damage to the environment (bold and underscore are emphasis added)."

Please note that this critically important public policy request is supported by 1,122 signatories to a coalition letter: Request That Governor Cuomo Require the Former Sperry Remington Site in Elmira, NY and All Legacy Toxic Sites in New York That Have Not Been Remediated After Five Years to Be Comprehensively Cleaned Up as Class 1 Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites

DEC has Repeatedly Failed to Clean Up High-Level Toxic Contamination Hazards Documented at Morse Chain Circa 1986

DEC has failed to clean up the Morse Chain site since high-level toxic contamination hazards were first documented circa 1986. That is a truly deplorable and unacceptable record of regulatory failure.

Even worse, DEC adopted a fundamentally inadequate clean up plan pursuant to a 1994 Record of Decision (ROD) which predicted that a dual phase extraction system "should operate for three years, but may reach goals in a shorter time frame." As a result, the site's Class 2 designation was changed to Class 4: "Site properly closed - continued management required."

After I documented circa 2004 that DEC's proposed clean up plan had failed to achieve its groundwater remediation goals, the site was redesignated a Class 2 and a revised ROD was adopted in 2010. To this day, however, requisite groundwater remediation standards still have not been achieved. Far from it.

Even worse, a broad range of legacy toxic site hazards were subsequently identified, including extraordinarily high levels of chlorinated solvents, toxic metals, Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons and a seven-foot layer of toxic contaminated oil at a depth of 142 feet below grade surface. In short, the site's chemical contamination hazards are now known to be far more extensive than earlier determined.

See: Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmissions Remediation Report

Morse Chain Must be Cleaned Up to Safeguard Cayuga Lake

In 2005, I documented that the Morse Chain site contaminated Six Mile Creek, a key tributary to Southern Cayuga Lake. I also requested that this site be cleaned up in order to safeguard that source of drinking water for more than 30,000 residents. I now request that the scope of Cayuga Lake's Total Maximum Daily Load comprehensive watershed clean up program be expanded to address Morse Chain and all other toxic sites in the lake's drainage basin.

See: Toxics Targeting's 4/21/2005 Assembly EnCon Testimony on Morse Chain Contamination Hazards

Proposed IRM Fails to Fulfill Legally Mandated Clean Up Requirements and Must Not Be Approved

DEC's proposed IRM exemplifies the profoundly disturbing dismantling of New York's toxic remediation programs that once set a national standard for rigorous regulatory enforcement. Instead of implementing toxic remediation mandates, DEC now systematically ignores those requirements and instead employs IRMs that should only be used as short-term emergency measures. Hence, the title, "interim."

DEC has stated that the proposed removal of 3,600 cubic yards of contaminated surficial dirt, "is likely to represent a significant part of the cleanup for the site (emphasis added)."

Moreover, approval of this inadequate proposal is obviously a foregone conclusion because the proposed plan states that, "NYSDEC will consider public comments, revise the plan as necessary, and approve the IRM work plan (emphasis added) in consultation with the New York State Department of Health."

Approving this inadequate IRM would compound DEC's 32-year failure to remediate the Morse Chain site. Removing limited areas of contaminated surficial dirt cannot resolve the massive groundwater, non-aqueous phase liquid solvents and oils, surface water and soil gas vapor intrusion hazards known to exist over widespread areas of the site.

These toxic pollution sources threaten the health of hundreds of local residents as well as students, faculty and staff at South Hill Elementary School. Many of the homes near the Morse Chain site are not equipped with soil gas vapor sub-slab depressurization systems. Moreover, the lack of poured concrete foundations and the presence of thin soil layers over fractured bedrock limit the effectiveness of these mitigation systems.

For all of these reasons, it is imperative that you require all of the documented toxic hazards at Morse Chain to be remediated in strict compliance with applicable standards. Until that goal is achieved, it would be irresponsible to permit redevelopment of the site for residential purposes. That authorization would undoubtedly exacerbate public health risks posed by the contaminated site.

Polluters Must Pay to Clean Up Their Toxic Contamination Hazards

Emerson Power Transmission, the reported successor to Morse Industrial Corporation, is one of the biggest corporations in America and is strictly liable for the clean up of its site. This responsible party is legally mandated to clean up all of the groundwater, surface water, non-aqueous phase liquid, soil and soil gas vapor intrusion hazards in strict compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements.

Your administration must require the responsible party to complete a comprehensive clean up of the site because you are responsible for protecting New York's environment, its natural resources and the health of its citizens.

You Must Not Replicate Your Failure to Clean Up Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Falls Overlook/Ithaca Gun

You have already failed to require the remediation of multiple toxic sites throughout Ithaca, including Ithaca Falls, Ithaca Falls Overlook, Ithaca Gun and Nate's Floral Estates. In each of those areas, DEC failed to enforce regulatory clean up standards despite public pleas to do so.

In the case of the Ithaca Falls Overlook you deliberately rejected my request to deny a "No Further Action" declaration even though I documented that IRMs had failed to clean up visually obvious contamination on the northern cliff face of the site. I also provided analytical findings documenting lead hazardous waste.

After DEC adopted a No Further Action declaration, extraordinarily high levels of toxic lead were identified in August 2017 in the Ithaca Falls Gorge Trail area. Yet, DEC did not publicly disclose those findings for more than six months.

As a result, tens of thousands of visitors to this incomparable scenic area were exposed to lead hazards up to 69,800 parts per million that your DEC failed to clean up. This exceeded the lead clean up requirement by nearly 175-fold.

Fortunately, President Trump's U. S. Environmental Protection Agency took swift action after I publicized the lead contamination and installed an IRM stone layer within days to prevent the public from walking directly on the high-level lead contamination that I first reported to DEC nearly 18 years ago.

So long as that IRM is temporary, it is an appropriate mitigation of pollution hazards until a comprehensive clean up is conducted.

The Ithaca Falls Gorge Trail IRM example stands in stark contrast to the totally inappropriate long-term IRM proposed at Morse Chain.


For all of these reasons, I request that you reject the above-referenced IRM for Morse Chain.

I trust that you will find my comments self-explanatory, but please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions that I might be able to answer. Thank you for your consideration.

Very respectfully yours,

Walter Hang

cc: Hon. Richard DePaolo
Hon. Barbara Lifton
Hon. Steven Englebright
Hon. Thomas F. O'Mara
Hon. Members of the Ithaca Common Council
Hon. Basil Seggos
Hon. Howard A. Zucker
Hon. Peter Lopez
Hon. Thomas Reed
Hon. Charles A. Schumer