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EPA taking action to address lead contamination at Ithaca Falls


Walter Hang, of Toxics Targeting, says the Ithaca Falls Natural Area should be temporarily closed because of high levels of lead contamination and should be reopened after a successful cleanup. Matt Steecker / Ithaca Journal

Ithaca Falls visitors are heavily discouraged from walking too close to the bottom of the cliff because of higher levels of lead contamination.
Matt Steecker / Ithaca Journal

The City of Ithaca announced the United States Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to address elevated levels of lead contamination detected in soil in the Ithaca Falls Gorge Trail area below the former Ithaca Gun factory site.

Sampling performed by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation contractors in February 2018 identified areas of lead-impacted soils near a public walkway and along a path leading to Ithaca Falls.

This sampling was conducted as part of ongoing monitoring in the area following excavation of contaminated soil that was completed by EPA in 2015.

In response to recent detections, EPA will conduct additional field sampling to further define and delineate the nature and extent of contamination. This information will be used to evaluate next steps. Additionally, plans for the installation of a fence and gravel to cover trails are being accelerated to prevent continued migration from the gorge face and reduce potential for public exposure at the popular trail.

The City will be posting signs to warn visitors viewing the Falls within the gorge of the location of the identified impacts so that they may limit contact with the soils in this vicinity. Additional information and remedial plans and timing will be communicated once the regulatory agencies have identified the project details and schedule.

Debris can be found in an area close to the bottom of a cliff in the Ithaca Falls Natural Area.
(Photo: Matt Steecker / Ithaca Journal)

Walter Hang, an activist and president of Toxics Targeting, Inc., an environmental database firm, said the Ithaca Falls Natural Area should be temporarily closed and reopened after a successful cleanup.

"These people walking through do not know they are in a heavily lead contaminated area," Hang said. "There have been four botched cleanups and the upper cliff area has extensive pollution that has never been removed."

Test results show extremely high-level lead contamination up to 69,800 parts per million in areas where the public can be exposed to lead pollution by walking over lead contaminated areas, according to Hang, who said he was referencing information provided to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The lead contamination in Ithaca Falls is more than 150 times the maximum four hundred parts per million allowed the EPA.

Hang called upon the DEC and Governor Andrew Cuomo to request the EPA to clean up Ithaca Falls, Ithaca Gun and an island overlook as part of National Priorities List for superfund cleanup.

Walter Hang, of Toxics Targetting, says the lead contaminants are going down chutes off the side of a cliff in the Ithaca Falls Natural Area.
(Photo: Matt Steecker / Ithaca Journal)

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick was not available for comment.

"This entire area, which is arguably Ithaca's most scenic natural area has got to be cleaned up from top to bottom," Hang said. "You simply can't walk in this area without coming in contact with the contamination of the lead in the dirt. The dirt sticks to your shoes, it can stick to your clothing, when pets are walking in this area, it can stick to their feet, so the public has to be protected from this lead contamination until this pollution is cleaned up. Little kids in particular have to be safeguarded from this lead hazard."

The EPA most recently did a cleanup operation in 2015 to clean up the gorge trail area, Hang said. However, because the upper cliff face was not cleaned up, contaminants ran down from the top of the cliff to the bottom via several "chutes," thereby recontaminating areas that were remediated, Hang said.