MIDDLEPORT – The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Tuesday ordered the excavation of the yards at about 180 properties in the Village of Middleport, mostly homes, to remove soil containing arsenic allegedly blown there by winds passing over the FMC Corp. agricultural chemical plant.
But at a meeting Tuesday night, village officials and residents said, as they have before, that they want no further cleanup of a problem they say has never posed a health threat.
At the meeting in the Masonic Lodge, many said they intend to opt out.
“Owners have the option to refuse cleanup now,” DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in an email to The Buffalo News.
FMC executives, who called the meeting, concurred that there is no health threat from the arsenic that they have been digging up since the mid-1990s at the behest of state and federal environmental agencies.
“All of the toxicological information does not support that there’s any health concerns,” FMC plant manager Noel Parker said.
The DEC disagrees with that claim. “It is well-documented that elevated levels of arsenic in soil can cause adverse human health and ecological impacts,” DeSantis said.
FMC has to pay for the removal of soil, which last year was estimated to cost $70 million. FMC proposed a $27 million alternative that the DEC rejected Tuesday.
FMC attorney Sabrina Mizrachi told the audience, “We can refuse. We can go through a dispute resolution process. We can sue.”
Shawn Tollin, FMC’s remediation project manager, said the area to be excavated includes all of the Royalton-Hartland Central School campus, except for the part already excavated in previous projects.
The state’s goal is to bring all the excavated properties’ arsenic levels below 20 parts per million, regarded as the local background level of naturally occurring arsenic.
Mayor Richard J. Westcott said crews who dug up scores of properties in the village in the past, hauling away old soil and bringing in new, weren’t even wearing protective suits.
“How do you convey that it’s harmful to the residents of Middleport but not to the workers?” Westcott asked.
The real harm, residents say, is to their quality of life and property values. Past cleanups destroyed old trees, shrubbery and yards and left a virtual wasteland behind, they say.
“I don’t trust the agencies enough to let them on my property,” resident William Arnold said. He said that digging up the arsenic-laden soil actually makes it more likely the arsenic will reach the lungs of residents.
“Yeah, it’s a carcinogen. We know that,” Westcott said. “It doesn’t get to the surface on its own. You have to disturb it, and you have to ingest a whole hell of a lot of it before you have any problem.”
The dirt to be removed is to be piled on FMC’s property, as long as the company can meet the DEC’s timeline of completing a storage unit in two years.
Residents wanted to know why the DEC and the state Health Department wouldn’t listen to them.
“Both of these agencies answer to the governor. He rules with an iron fist,” Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, told the audience of about 25.
“I’m still trying to figure out what we can do next, short of having the governor go into the DEC and [Department of Health] and tell them to knock it off.”
Westcott said, “George Maziarz is the No. 3 man in the State Senate. He should be able to get something done.”
Maziarz, R-Newfane, did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. He sent a staffer, who arrived as the 90-minute gathering was ending.
“If enough people opt out, somebody’s going to have to pay attention,” former Mayor Julia Maedl said.
DeSantis said most properties would see a foot or less of soil removed, based on individual readings. She said the cleanup is expected to last five years and could start as early as 2015.
Westcott doesn’t believe that. He told the FMC executives, “Your history shows you can only do 12 houses in a year.”