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Toxics Targeting Reiterates Request That Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Falls Overlook/Ithaca Gun Be Included in the National Priority List for Superfund Clean up

April 24, 2018

Via Electronic Transmission

Honorable Pete Lopez
Region 2 Administrator
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
90 Broadway
New York, NY 10007-1866


Congratulations on being appointed Region 2 Administrator for the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I wish you the very best of luck during your tenure.

I write very respectfully today to document the on-going failure of the EPA, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Department of Health and the City of Ithaca to safeguard visitors to the Ithaca Falls Natural Area from extraordinarily high levels of toxic lead documented in the Gorge Trail area where tens of thousands of adults, young children and pets walk annually while visiting this scenic area gem.

It has now been nearly 18 years since I first documented widespread lead contamination hazards at Ithaca Falls, Ithaca Falls Overlook and Ithaca Gun. Yet, not one of these toxic polluted areas has been cleaned up in strict compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements.

It is imperative that toxic hazards involving these three interconnected sites be comprehensively remediated once and for all without any further delay. That is why I reiterate my June 20, 2017 request that these sites be included in the National Priority List for Federal Superfund Clean up.

I trust that you will find my request self-explanatory, but please do not hesitate to contact me if I can answer any questions or otherwise clarify my request. Unless my request receives a prompt favorable reply, I will be contacting your office to request a meeting with you and your staff to discuss this urgent matter.

Extremely High-Level Lead Levels Contaminate the Ithaca Falls Gorge Trail Area Despite EPA's 2015 Removal Action

I summarize below extensive data which reveal that the public has been exposed to extraordinarily high levels of lead in soils at Ithaca Falls. Based on available data, lead exceeds the 400 parts per million (PPM) Removal Management Level (RML) by up to 175-fold.

What is truly appalling is that EPA and other government authorities: a) documented high-level lead hazards at Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Falls Overlook/Ithaca Gun circa 2015, b) understood that visitors to the area were exposed to unremediated toxic hazards and c) failed to protect public health, particularly involving very young children. I simply cannot comprehend how this possibly could have happened.

1. I recently posted for public review analytical results from a February 2018 sampling event which document widespread lead contamination up to 69,800 PPM along the Ithaca Falls Gorge Trail. The highest levels of toxic lead are located well outside of the areas where lead was removed by EPA circa 2015.

See: Ithaca Falls 2/28/18 Lead Sampling Results

EPA promptly covered these lead contaminated soils with a layer of stones to prevent visitors from walking directly on top of the lead pollution, but this mitigation effort hardly constitutes a comprehensive solution to the extensive toxic pollution hazards in this popular area.

2. In a truly shocking public disclosure, New York State environmental authorities reportedly documented high-level lead contamination up to 19,100 PPM in the Gorge Trail Area circa August 2017. Yet no disclosure was made to the public and no efforts whatsoever were made to safeguard visitors from coming in direct contact with high-level lead pollution.

See: Ithaca Gun Post Remediation Sampling Results Map - 8-2017

This inexcusable failure to alert the public to extraordinarily high lead pollution is almost criminal. During more than 40 years of working with state and federal environmental and health authorities, I have never known of a similar failure to alert the public to documented toxic hazards in a highly frequented public park.

3. According to EPA's Final Removal Action Report regarding the limited lead clean up at Ithaca Falls circa 2015, not all the lead contamination identified in surficial soils above the 400 PPM RML was removed. For example, lead contamination up to 1,100 PPM was identified outside of the removal area in the Ithaca Gorge Trail area at sampling location P001-SS057-003-01 (0-3).

See: Ithaca Gun Removal Assessment Analytical Results For Lead And Arsenic Map

Failure to remove this contamination directly in the Gorge Trail exposed the public to high lead levels that threaten their health. This is a particular concern given the enormous numbers of very young children who frequent this natural area.

EPA also left in-place lead pollution up to 12,000 PPM because it was located approximately two feet below grade. I believe that all documented lead contamination above the 400 PPM RML must be removed.

4. EPA documented that the area it remediated circa 2015 was almost immediately recontaminated by toxic pollution falling from the upper cliff area of the Ithaca Falls Island Overlook area. EPA's troubling failure to prohibit public access to this known lead contaminated area resulted in the public being exposed to high lead levels that threaten their health.

See: Ithaca Gun Re-Deposition Sampling Analytical Results For Lead And Arsenic Map

5. EPA should have taken comprehensive action to prevent any public access to the area it remediated because it determined that:

"The validated analytical results from the EPA’s RSE [Removal Site Evaluation, not in the original] indicated that the migration of lead and arsenic had occurred which was impacting the Ithaca Falls Natural Area due to the migration of soil and debris present at the top of and within the steep cliff face bordering the southern portion of the study area (emphasis added). Lead and arsenic are both Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) designated hazardous substances. Based on the EPA’s RSE, I (sic) was determined that a Removal Action was warranted to mitigate threats posed to public health and the environment associated with the migration of these hazardous substances into the Ithaca Falls Natural Area."

See: EPA - Ithaca Gun - Final Removal Action Report - 6-2016

EPA Failed to Prevent DEC's Ill-Considered No Further Action Proposal

EPA's analysis underscored my request that Governor Cuomo reject his Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) No Further Action proposal for the obviously inadequate clean up of the Ithaca Falls Overlook. I wrote:

"Adopting a No Further Action proposal would be irresponsible. Tens of thousands of Ithaca residents as well as visitors from all over the world, including very young children, frequent the Ithaca Falls Gorge that is polluted each and every day by contamination raining down from the inadequately remediated Falls Overlook site."

I noted, "In particular, the northwestern portion of the Falls Overlook site clearly has large amounts of toxic contaminated debris that should have been removed because the material falls directly into the Ithaca Falls Gorge immediately below. This toxic debris extends down the Ithaca Gorge cliff face that is part of the Falls Overlook site. Adjoining areas of the eastern portion cliff face very likely remain contaminated, but are not easily inspected due to the sheer drop-off.

Until this entire area is remediated, DEC must not be allowed to declare that hazards at the Falls Overlook have been sufficiently addressed. That is not true."

Unfortunately, EPA did not require DEC to deny adoption of its No Further Action proposal.


For all these self-explanatory reasons, I reiterate my request that EPA include Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Falls Overlook/Ithaca Gun in the NPL for Federal Superfund Clean up. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can answer any questions or otherwise clarify my request.

See: Request that EPA Include Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun in the National Priority List for Federal Superfund Clean pursuant to New Subsurface Soil Gas Vapor Intrusion Rule

In closing, I would like to emphasize that untold numbers of visitors to the Ithaca Falls area were unnecessarily exposed to extremely high lead contamination levels since the spokesperson for your agency reportedly assured the public circa 9/15/15 that "There was never anything anyone should have been nervous about in terms of swimming or walking in that area."

This shockingly erroneous statement must be publicly corrected without any further delay. With all due respect, EPA's continuing failure to set the public record straight on this incredibly misleading statement is nothing less than irresponsible.

Finally, these sites warrant NPL inclusion because it is my understanding that on 12/7/2016, EPA adopted a new rule "to add a subsurface intrusion component to the Hazard Ranking System (HRS)..." for sites with soil gas vapor hazards. This rule reportedly took effect on May 22, 2017.

See: Federal Register Notice of the Final Rule - Addition of a Subsurface Intrusion Component to the HRS (PDF)

Numerous homes adjoining Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Falls Overlook/Ithaca Gun are documented to be impacted by soil gas vapor intrusion involving a solvent plume, but a large portion of the homes have never been tested for toxic air pollution. Moreover, no effort has been made to clean up the plume despite regulatory exceedances.

Against that background, I reiterate that EPA is the last line of defense against toxic hazards at Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Falls Overlook/Ithaca Gun. I implore your agency to complete a comprehensive remediation of this site in order to safeguard public health and the environment without further delay. I also request that EPA require DEC to rescind its No Further Action decision for Ithaca Falls Overlook.

Very best regards,

Walter Hang

cc: Honorable Barbara Lifton
Honorable Charles Schumer
Honorable Steven Englebright
Honorable Thomas Reed
Honorable Basil Seggos
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Honorable Members of the Ithaca Common Council