By Joe Martens
The News article “Toxic legacy’s time bomb” painted a compelling picture of the history of pollution in Western New York, but failed to account for the significant progress made toward reversing the trend. The article failed to note that many of the sites have been cleaned up under the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Brownfield cleanup programs.
The state and federal governments and private industry have spent billions of dollars in cleanup efforts, and many of these cleanups have brought much-needed redevelopment to this area.
The state Superfund program was created in 1979 to ensure that inactive hazardous waste disposal sites are cleaned up. Of the 408 Superfund sites in Erie, Niagara and Cattaraugus counties, 93 percent have been investigated, remediated, closed or found not to pose a significant threat to human health or the environment. Just 40 sites are currently listed in Class 2, sites that pose a significant threat. Of these, 12 have been remediated and will soon be reclassified. There are many Superfund success stories, such as Donner Hanna Coke, now a manufacturing facility, and Spaulding Composites, now a shovel-ready business park.
In addition, the Brownfield Cleanup Program provides incentives to developers to “recycle” former industrial and commercial property instead of developing greenfields. In fact, much of the recent development in Western New York has been due, in part, to the Brownfields program. Successful brownfield sites include the Health Now building, the former Donovan Building and the HARBORcenter project in Buffalo; Steel Winds windmills in Lackawanna; Remington Rand Apartments in North Tonawanda; and the new Greenpac paper mill and Globe Metallurgical facility in Niagara Falls.
The DEC has a dedicated staff of professionals in Western New York and across the state who implement sophisticated programs to track and monitor remediation sites long-term. This includes following federal and state guidelines that assess the possible routes of exposure to the public and the environment by sampling various media such as air, groundwater and soils and comparing the data to determine if a public health threat exists. If it does, the DEC works closely with the state Department of Health to immediately address the threat. This work is routinely performed before long-term remediation is conducted. Once the cleanup is completed, DEC staff monitors the site through follow-up actions such as inspections and sampling.
We are here in Western New York actively working on remediation sites and are committed to a continuing presence to ensure the health, safety and environmental protection of the community.
Joe Martens is commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.