Steel plant remediation nears 80-percent mark

OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino Construction is about 80 percent complete on the Lucas Avenue Steel Plant Superfund site.

The drive down Lucas Avenue in the city of Dunkirk is markedly different than in years past. Where the former Al Tech Specialty Steel stood, now the land has been leveled in some areas, dug up in others and on one side tall grass has been allowed to grow.

City Engineer Randy Woodbury recently reported that much progress has been made.

“They seem to be about 80 percent finished. They found a few things that were unexpected, but they expect to find things like that. They’re dealing with that,” he told common council members.

Woodbury said the city plans to be involved in the final stages of the remediation process.

“They’ve done a tremendous job of cleaning up that site. It was something imperative and it was something that the workers and company at the time didn’t know what these chemicals were that they were working with. We’ve learned a lot about the environment in the 100 years since that was built. A lot of our ancestors worked in that factory, a lot of proud workers. But, now we’ve inherited the problem of cleaning up and the state’s stepped in to do that. The mayor, DPW director and I are looking at a closing point to make sure that absolutely everything is done in the best interest of the city,” he said. Third Ward Councilman Adelino Gonzalez asked when the high grass will be cut, citing safety and wild animal complaints.

“The state has been trying to remediate that site as best it can and the last thing they’re going to do is reconstruct that ditch, so even though it’s our responsibility and our land, the state is planning to do some cutting of that grass. There were some dangerous chemicals that were on that site. Before they clean up the grass, they want to test the soil to make sure it’s clean before they get in there. Our workers may not get there first because we’ll have the trained workers from the state contractor handle that. It is on the list, they know about it, they’re going to test it, that’s why it was allowed to grow as high as it is, because they’re going to test it first,” Woodbury added.

For almost 100 years the former Al Tech Specialty Steel plant forged and finished steel rods and wires and 15 years after closing, the first building came down in September as part of the state’s Superfund Program and the Brownfield Opportunity Area grant program.

The Department of Environmental Conservation designated the land a Class 2 site due to concerns with contaminates from chromium, polychlorinated biphenyls, trichloroethene, PCB aroclor 1260, arsenic, cyanides, lead and petroleum products.

The goal of the remediation is to achieve cleanup levels that protect public health and the environment. Once the remediation is done the DEC will issue a Final Engineering Report which will describe the cleanup activities completed and certify that cleanup requirements have been achieved or will be achieved.