Investigating contamination at a former Sylvania Corning plant in Hicksville that processed uranium and thorium for nuclear fuel rods has stalled, and Sen. Charles Schumer called Monday on the Army Corps of Engineers to speed up the process.
He also pledged to fight for increased funding for the Army Corps program, which was created in 1974 to clean up contaminants from the nation's early work with atomic weapons and energy production. The fuel rods were used in nuclear plants decades ago.
The site, a little more than 9 acres on Cantiague Rock Road, was first accepted into the Corps' remedial action program in 2005. A remedial investigation evaluating contaminants and impact on human health is not expected until 2016 and likely won't be finalized until 2017, Schumer said.
"That is no good," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said as he stood across from the site, which is fenced off and has posted signs saying public access is not allowed. "We simply need faster action from the Army Corps."
Residents have long talked about contamination from the plant. It operated with an Atomic Energy Commission contract between 1952 and 1967. Often, as was customary, waste was burned or dumped in unlined sumps. Uranium, thorium, nickel, solvents and volatile organic chemicals have been found in the soil.
Verizon, which now owns or leases the parcels included in the site, spent $240 million on cleanup before handing the project over to the Army Corps in 2005, Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said. Between 2003 and 2005, 58,000 cubic yards of waste were removed and hauled to a nuclear waste site in Utah.
"We applaud Senator Schumer's efforts to have the Army Corps of Engineers speed up the remediation of this site," Bonomo said.
Online documents on the site from the state Department of Environmental Conservation say a groundwater plume has moved off-site and is near or beyond Old Country Road, about 1 mile away. "This site presents a significant environmental threat because the dissolved plume is impacting a sole-source aquifer," the fact sheet reads.
The DEC could not be reached for comment. The Army Corps did not respond to questions.
Interest in cleaning the site has waxed and waned. "I would like to be optimistic that it churns the butter," Northwest Civic Association of Hicksville president Joel Berse said of Schumer's pressure.
The Army Corps program, which oversees 24 active sites in 10 states, typically was funded with between $130 million to $140 million annually until fiscal year 2011, when funding dropped to below $110 million. Schumer said he hopes to get the funding back up to $140 million.