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Western NY toxic sites could endanger Great Lakes

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm •  Published: April 21, 2013

The job of protecting people in Western New York from hazardous waste mainly falls on two watchdog agencies - the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The DEC has a much bigger presence than the EPA in Western New York and is more actively involved on a day-to-day basis.

Despite the presence of these hundreds of waste sites, the public safety situation is "light-years better" than it was in the late 1970s, said EPA spokesman Michael J. Basile. That's because the two agencies constantly monitor the sites, he said.

"We have better regulation of these sites, much more attention is paid to environmental issues, and we have a much better-educated public than we did in the '70s," Basile said. "Whether you live around the corner from a dry cleaners or an industrial waste landfill, there are environmental regulations. We work hard to enforce them. So does the state."

Reacting to the claim that Western New York is overburdened with hazardous waste sites, Basile said he does not believe so. He added that the DEC would be better equipped to answer that question.

"I will say that, in the Northeast, there is a historical preponderance of industrial activity, whether you are talking about Buffalo, Pittsburgh or Niagara Falls," Basile said. "(Western New York) is not the toxic capital of the world. It's easy for someone to make that claim, but it's not the case."

A DEC spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, but according to Gardella, much of the data in the "Mapping Waste" study came directly from DEC records.

So how did all this waste get here in the first place? Much of it was produced here. Decades ago, during the 1900s, chemical companies were attracted to Niagara County because of the proximity to the cheap and plentiful electrical power generated by Niagara Falls. Easy access to fresh water, another key component in the chemical industry, also was important.

Another reason why Niagara County has such a big share of radioactive waste is that much of the work on the Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, was done here.

And then there is all the waste that is still being hauled here - to the Chemical Waste Management landfill in the Town of Porter - from other areas of New York State and the Northeast.

About 100 local environmental groups worked on the 223-page study. The information they examined has been available in complicated reports from a variety of government agencies for years, but never before assembled into one comprehensive report.