DEC outlines TCE clean up

About 20 homes in Lamont Circle neighborhood will require mitigation


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
State Department of Environmental Conservation geologist Bill Wertz explains to Cortlandville residents Thursday the findings of state testing that measured the levels of trichloroethene in the ground. The chemical has migrated from the former Smith Corona plant on Route 13.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Despite the presence of toxic chemicals in the air in at least 70 homes northwest of the former Smith Corona facility on Route 13, state officials emphasize that the contamination is not a significant health concern.
“We don’t expect any adverse effects from the indoor air levels that we’ve found in the area,” Henri Hamel, a representative of the state Department of Health, said at an informational meeting held Wednesday at the Cortlandville Fire Hall.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation has been conducting testing for trichloroethene (TCE) in areas northwest of the former Smith Corona site since February.
The DEC began with widespread soil vapor tests and then narrowed its focus, testing the air inside homes in areas where soil contamination was most prominent.
The testing found that about 20 homes — most of which are located on the western third of the Lamont Circle neighborhood, with a handful of others located on Lime Hollow Road — had contamination levels significant enough to merit mitigation, according to DEC spokesperson Diane Carlton.
Another 50 homes had levels of TCE that will require further monitoring this fall and possibly indefinitely, Carlton said.
The DEC will pay for mitigations and further monitoring in an effort to ultimately eliminate contamination, but Hamel stressed that adverse health effects from relatively low levels of TCE in the homes are unlikely.
One measuring stick used to determine whether mitigation was necessary was a Health Department recommendation that the amount of TCE in the air indoors not exceed _5 micrograms per cubic meter, Hamel said.
That recommended level and the levels found in Cortlandville — which ranged from no contamination to 17 micrograms per cubic meter — are significantly lower than levels that have been known to cause health problems, Hamel said, noting that most of the known adverse affects to the chemical have come in industrial situations when exponentially higher levels were present.
Hearing that the current levels in homes were not believed to be dangerous was a relief to Lamont Circle resident Brian Moore.
“I was concerned for my kids, and I needed to hear the long-term effects of this,” said Moore, whose property is among those that will require continued monitoring.
Health concerns also prompted Lamont Circle resident Trisha Roiger to attend the meeting.
“We spend a lot of time in our basement, so it was something I was worried about,” Roiger said.
Although TCE levels in Roiger’s house weren’t substantial enough to require mitigations, she said the DEC had agreed to move a radon system already in place in her basement to a position outside the house, where it can also hopefully serve to filter out TCE.
The mitigations the DEC will install will essentially work like radon filters that are already in use in that area, Wertz said. A cylindrical fan would suck vapors from the soil and release them, through a PVC pipe, into the open air, he said.
The systems, which should cost roughly $2,000, will be installed by the DEC at no cost to the homeowner, Carlton said.
State money would immediately fund the work on mitigations, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 14, Carlton said, but the state would likely try to get Smith Corona to ultimately foot the bill.
“I expect our attorneys will make an attempt to recover the costs,” she said.
Meanwhile many homes will continue to be monitored, with testing to begin again in November, Wertz said.
Moore asked during the meeting if the November testing would complete testing on his property, but Wertz could not be sure.
“It’s really hard to say,” Wertz said, noting that TCE levels on neighboring properties could require continued testing even if a particular property were to test low. “We’re gonna test as much as we need to until we feel confident there’s no risk of exposure.”
The DEC will also continue to test TCE levels in groundwater in the area, Wertz said, with drilling on 21 new monitoring wells scheduled to begin next week.
Groundwater contamination is no longer a significant threat to residents because public water was extended to most residences in the area when TCE was initially found in the area, Hamel said.
While TCE has likely infiltrated municipal wells, the city of Cortland and Cortlandville both have multiple mitigations and monitoring systems in place to eliminate chemicals, Hamel said.
However, studying groundwater levels can help determine where the contamination is coming from, according to Wertz.
The groundwater levels could simply be remnants of the original contamination, they could be leaking somehow from the former Smith Corona site, or they could be coming from an unknown origin point, Wertz said.
“We found higher groundwater levels in the northern part of the study, and you wouldn’t expect that,” Wertz said, noting that he would expect the highest levels to be in the western part of Lamont Circle where the highest soil and air contamination levels were observed. “We need to determine what the flow directions are, and make certain we’re not missing anything.”
Should the contamination be coming from either a new origin point, or seeping through Smith Corona’s mitigation somehow, that flow of TCE would need to be stopped in order to permanently correct the problem, Wertz said.
“Our long-term goal is to clean the groundwater up so we don’t even have a source for the soil vapors,” Wertz said.



C’ville agrees to help flood-damaged McGraw

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The Town Board authorized the town Highway Department to assist the village of McGraw in repairing flood damage from Friday’s storm after Mayor Jay Cobb and several McGraw residents asked for help at the board’s meeting Wednesday night.
“We just reiterated most of what went on last night (at the McGraw Village Board meeting), and made this board aware of some of our concerns,” Cobb said afterward. “They just offered their support and authorized the highway superintendent to give us any and all help possible, which was always the case anyways, but they just reiterated that.”
He said the village does not have the equipment or the manpower to handle large projects like the flood recovery.
Frank Oliver of Spring Street in McGraw said that he had been disappointed with how the flooding and subsequent recovery had been handled so far. He and Paul Osinski of East Academy Street were particularly concerned about the bridge that carries East Academy Street over Smith Brook, which had become clogged with debris during the storm that severely damaged the upstream railing.




Town of Homer allows Sweeney’s Pest Control to remain open

Staff Reporter

HOMER — A pest control business owner in Homer could be operating his business illegally, but town officials say they won’t take the issue to court.
“They have always been a family that has been good for the town of Homer,” Town Supervisor Fred Forbes said. “And we would choose not to be hard-nosed with people of long standing.”
Mike Sweeney, owner of Sweeney’s Pest Elimination, of 1465 Ayers Road, and the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, lost an appeal in February to label Sweeney’s business a “home professional office.” State Supreme Court Justice Phillip R. Rumsey upheld the decision that Sweeney’s business violated the local zoning laws.
The decision followed two years of controversy and litigation. In 2004, Code Enforcer Bruce Weber interpreted that Sweeney’s business wasn’t a home professional office and violated the site’s non-commercial zoning.
But the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals reversed Weber’s interpretation with four out of six board members voting against it.
In turn, concerned neighbors Valerie and Ken Mack, of 1450 Ayers Road, sued Weber and the Zoning Board of Appeals, arguing the zoning board erred in labeling Sweeney’s business a home professional office.
They won the State Supreme Court case on Jan. 9, 2005. Later, on Jan. 19 they won on an appeal of the decision.