September 5, 2002

State Helps Clean C.U. Disposal Site

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The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is currently working on a project that will clean up a former Cornell site used to dispose of low level radioactive materials, as well as other laboratory materials. The site was six to twelve feet deep, with chemicals and animal carcasses also disposed of there.

The radiation disposal site (RDS), located on Snyder Road in Lansing, was used until 1978 and then shut down as disposal procedures changed over time. The site spans approximately two acres.

The project first began with monitoring the area and a series of investigations in 1984. Since then further examination including groundwater sampling was been done to determine whether the waste site presented a threat to residents in the area.

Although there is no direct threat, groundwater standards have been increased. As a result, a cap was placed over the site in 1996 to prevent rainwater and outside water from leaking into the site.

After more, “remedial investigation, a Record of Decision (ROD) [established] the preferred and accepted [method] for cleaning the site,” said Steve Beyers, the RDS project engineer.

The ROD was issued by the NYSDEC this past spring. The ROD can be found at Cornell’s Environmental Compliance Office, the Tompkins County Public Library and the Lansing Village Hall.

The costs, which range from planning to construction, are expected to be $10 million.

According to Beyers, the state will pay for 90 percent of the costs since they directed many of the Cornell experiments that generated the waste in the RDS. Cornell will fund the remainder of the project.

Joe Sambataro ’05, a member of the Society for Natural Resources Conservation, felt that the site definitely needed to be cleaned up. However, he questioned the costs of the project.

“[For example], if there’s an oil spill … and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants it cleaned up, it can cost millions and millions of dollars to clean it up 100 percent, [whereas] to clean it up 98 or even 99 percent can be [significantly] cheaper. And if they clean [RDS] 95 percent, it can still be effective, acceptable, helpful to the environment and cheaper,” he said.

The project is currently in the design phase and Cornell has an engineering firm that is finalizing the construction work. The clean-up process, which has four major components, is expected to be completed in slightly over a year, although the site will be continually monitored. The first step is to, “build a series of collection wells in the ground to control the migration of waste,” Beyers said.

Next, the ground will be dug out and replaced with a combination of betinite and soil so that water cannot pass through and spread contaminants. The layer of rock will also be filled to prevent cracks from also carrying out contaminated water. The final step is to replace the cap over the top of the site to seal it and prevent rainwater from entering.

The project will be of, “minimal disturbance” to residents in the area and health regulations concerning the water as well as the air pollution during construction will constantly be monitored, according to NYSDEC project manager Martin Brand.

“The radioactive materials found in the ground and surface water are below any health-based standards but there is paradioxane that does exceed New York ground water standards,” Brand said.

“[The health threat to area residents] is a matter of opinion but I will say that the primary concern that the NYSDEC is worried about is the paradioxane,” Beyers agreed. While the amount of paradioxane in the soil is very low, it is still not a chemical normally found in groundwater. Furthermore, “there are no public wells [on the site] but there are still levels above groundwater standards immediately around the landfill,” Beyers said.

Groundwater with paradioxane will be pumped to and then, “treated at the existing treatment plant now being used for Cornell’s former chemical disposal site (CDS),” Cornell project manager Donna Connery said, as reported by the Cornell News Service.

Such clean-up projects can be expected and are common across the state of New York since, “there used to be no regulations concerning waste disposal,” Brand said. Sites that the NYSDEC currently work on are as old as 100 years.

Cornell owns land to the North, East and West of the site.

Archived article by Diana Lo