The Leonard Lopate Show

The Most Radioactive Place in New York Is Now a Superfund Site

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The former location of the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company in Ridgewood, Queens is the most radioactive spot in New York City. Today the EPA added the property to the list of federal Superfund sites. The other two superfund sites in the city are Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal. Nate Lavey video producer for The New Yorker talks about the history of the property and the risks to people who work there now.

Work began at the site nearly 100 years ago, with the production of rare earth metals as additives to steel and lighter flints. One of the byproducts of that industrial process is thorium – a radioactive element. “At that time they took their thorium byproduct and dumped it into the city’s sewer system,” said Lavey. “[The owners] would have known that thorium was radioactive…but they probably didn’t have a good idea of how dangerous the chemicals they were handling were.” The contamination is fairly localized to the site, but Lavey noted that the EPA is looking at nearby blocks as well.

Currently the site (at 1125-1129 Irving Avenue) houses an auto-body shop, a deli and a construction company. “The amount of residual radiation is pretty low, especially when you compare it to nuclear disasters we’re all familiar with” said Lavey. While radiation levels are low, they are still elevated. Working on the site is equivalent to getting about 30 chest x-rays a year, which is well below the amount of radiation exposure deemed safe for nuclear power plant workers. The risk to customers is minimal. The EPA has already installed some shielding at the site.

Although the site is now designated for Superfund remediation, it’s unclear how the cleanup will proceed and who will pay for it. 


The Leonard Lopate Show

Superfund Site Cleanups: “A Merry-Go-Round of Toxic Waste”

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The clean-up at Superfund sites often creates its own trail of environmental problems as toxic waste is treated and shipped from place to place.

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Queens is Radioactive - Literally

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Environmental Protection Agency will likely add a site in Queens to the federal Superfund list after finding higher-than-normal levels of radioactivity.

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Brooklynites Turn Out for Gowanus Canal Cleanup Tutorial

Thursday, January 24, 2013

More than a hundred Brooklyn residents and business owners attended a public meeting organized by the Environmental Protection Agency to address the proposed Superfund cleanup of the Gowanus Canal.


Studio 360

Special Guest: Julie Bargmann

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Julie Bargmann is a landscape architect specializing in Superfund sites and other toxic places. Her firm has worked on the reuse of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Ford Motor Company's River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan. She also teaches landscape architecture at the University of ...