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Ithaca Gun Factory site declared "a significant threat to public health"


A look at the rubble left behind after the Ithaca Gun factory was demolished. The iconic Ithaca Gun smokestack is seen in the distance.
(Photo by Walter Hang)

The Department of Environmental Conversation has released a report identifying the Ithaca Gun Factory site, spanning from 121-125 on Lake Street, as a "significant threat to public health or the environment."

The findings were published in a Brownfield Cleanup Program Fact Sheet published by the DEC and based on the investigation by the DEC and the New York State Department of Health. The leading pollutant on the site is listed as lead in surface and sub-surface soil, as well as other harmful chemicals, such as trichloroethene, in isolated areas around the site and in groundwater off-site as well.

"This decision is based on high concentrations of lead present in surface soil over nearly the entire site and presence of chlorinated volatile organic compounds in groundwater on-site and the migration of contaminated groundwater off-site," the report states. "The highest concentration of contaminants occur on-site within the fractured bedrock. Although the movement of groundwater is reduced vertically by a decrease in fractures with increased depth, contaminated groundwater does migrate off-site."

As for what happens next, the Fact Sheet outlines the near-future process as such: the DEC will complete its review of the site and, "if appropriate," approve the investigation report. That report will be publicly accessible, and an applicant may then develop a cleanup plan that would address and remediate the contamination on the site. That plan is subject to public comment and oversight by the DEC and the DOH.

The remedial investigation that resulted in these findings was undertaken from September 2016 to March 2018. According to the DEC, they found a range of lead from non-detected to 21,000 lead parts per million (ppm).

Another component to the Ithaca Gun Factory site saga is that it was recently the subject of a housing proposal; Frost Travis of Travis-Hyde Properties had introduced sketch plans for a senior housing project on the site before the Ithaca Planning Board last month. Travis could not be reached for comment at this time, but this story will be updated with comments when he is.

Environmental activist Walter Hang, of local consultation firm Toxics Targeting, said he would be revitalizing his push to have the site qualify for Superfund level clean-up, which would mean the federal Environmental Protection Agency would take over responsibility for the remediation. For the record, Hang said analysis by an outside engineering firm Previous efforts to get the site into the Superfund program have gained footing in the environmental community, without much momentum at a government level.

"They haven't cleaned this site up in 18 years," Hang said, additionally employing the word "incompetent" several times. "This underscores why this entire Ithaca Gun, Ithaca Falls, Ithaca Overlook site, has to be added to the national priority list for federal Superfund cleanup."