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Toxic sites brought to surface; web resource aims to help public more easily find hazardous areas


ALBANY -- State environmental and health officials are looking into at least 24 sites in the Capital Region, where toxic vapors may be rising from underground pollutants previously considered contained. "Vapor intrusion" may be exposing people -- outdoors and indoors -- to carcinogens.

The potential trouble spots are among 421 that the state Department of Environmental Conservation had listed as inactive hazardous waste sites before 2003. Since then, studies have found that even though groundwater contamination and soil spills may have been controlled, pollutants can dissolve and emit toxic vapors that rise into living quarters, play areas and workplaces.

Those and other sites are about to be exposed to closer public scrutiny. Toxics Targeting, a private environmental company based in Ithaca, launched a new Web site that lets the public find vapor or any other toxic sites using searchable maps and aerial photographs.

In Endicott, Broome County, investigations in recent years found homes with levels of toxic vapors in a neighborhood above an old IBM spill. IBM offered to install ventilation for almost 500 of the homeowners.

DEC has mobilized by reopening cases across the state.Among the locations the state decided to restudy are well-known local pollution sites such as Mercury Refining and N.L. Industries in Colonie; GE industrial plants in Fort Edward, Schenectady and Waterford; Campbell Plastics in Rotterdam and Schenectady International in Rotterdam Junction.

But the list includes some lesser-known sites, such as Roxy Cleaners in North Greenbush; Don's Laundry and Shoporama Shopping Center in Rotterdam; and the GE Research & Development Center in Niskayuna. Somewhat surprising sites include the state Health Department's Wadsworth Laboratories on New Scotland Avenue, Sulzer Turbosystems in Latham and Becker Electronics in East Durham.Yancey Roy, a spokesman for the DEC, said of the 421 sites the agency listed in 2005 as potential vapor sites, work has started on 399.

In the Capital Region, he said, six sites have been completed. Of those, five evaluations showed there were no problems: Wadsworth Lab, NL Industries, Becker Electronics, Starr Refinishing in Durham and Schenectady International.Levels found in the air of Roxy Cleaners required remediation -- essentially by drilling a hole in the basement and venting air outdoors.Work on two sites -- at GE R&D and at American Valve Manufacturing in Coxsackie -- has not yet begun, Roy said. All other regional sites are undergoing evaluations.

The state has assumed responsibility for 131 of the sites statewide. The federal government is handling 55 sites, and the polluters are responsible for the others, Roy said."New York is one of the few states that has been at the forefront of going back to sites and raising the issue of vapor intrusion," he said.

All the sites can be viewed on DEC Web pages, including: and But the DEC's Web pages might be difficult for the average person to navigate.

Toxics Targeting's user-friendly site displays locations of more than 270,000 reported dumps, leaking tanks, pollution discharges and other known or potential environmental hazards.

The private maps, with many locations uniquely pinpointed by Toxics Targeting, allow a person to enter an address to see what nearby hazards are known. The site is linked to the popular Google Maps interface, Microsoft Bird's Eye view images and Google StreetView maps. The site can be found at

Walter Hang, Toxics Targeting's president, said the product was put together to help prospective buyers check homes and businesses for reported environmental hazards that can reduce property value, impose cleanup liability or threaten public health. The vapors are rising mostly from chlorinated solvents.

He will charge for more specific reports on each potential vapor site.

"People have no idea these sites are in their neighborhoods," Hang said. "Vapor can seep into homes, churches, businesses." A tip-off is proximity to gas stations, dry cleaners and industrial sites, he said.

James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at