Monday, April 14, 2014

Great Kills Park Radiation Cleanup Planning Underway

By Brianne Bishop

Great Kills Park on Staten Island is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. This area includes Sandy Hook, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refugee, Jacob Riis Park, Frank Charles Park, Hamilton Beach, Floyd Bennett Field, Canarsie Pier, Great Kills Park, Fort Wadsworth, and Miller Field.  The recreation area consists of many sections of land, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, spread around New York City and New Jersey.

Contamination at Great Kills Park was discovered in 2005 when a police flyover picked up radiation signals. Initial investigation proved that the land contained radium waste. A small piece of land was fenced off from the public for safety precautions. Much of the land that makes up Great Kills Park was the site of a landfill in the 1940s and 1950s. This landfill contained medical and sanitary waste, so it was no surprise that there was some type of contamination.

Initially, the radium was thought to consume a small area. Further investigations using a gamma survey showed otherwise. The process was nearly complete when Hurricane Sandy hit. The storm impacted a large portion of Gateway National Recreation Area and greatly delayed the survey process. The completion of the survey this year shows that the contamination is much worse than thought. The National Park Service is working with the EPA and United States Army Corps of Engineers to further investigate and test the area for more radioactive hot spots.

Out of 488 acres of parkland, 266 acres are now fenced off because they believe these areas are affected by contamination. According to the National Park Service website, the cleanup will be following CERCLA or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as the “Superfund” law. This law states that the owners of the land must take responsibility in taking action to cleanup the site, enforce against the responsible parties, ensure community involvement, and ensure long-term results.

On-going investigations have been conducted on who is responsible for this contamination. “The National Park Service recently identified the source of at least some of the radioactive contamination: discarded radium needles that had been inserted into cancerous tumors,” the New York Times reported last fall. The park service is going to complete further investigation as well as draw up a plan of action for de-contamination.

Projected completion of the project is 10 years, due to the lengthy process and protocol that must be followed in ensuring the process is done thoroughly.

Residents who live around the area have increasing concerns about the growing radioactive activity. The nearby community is primarily made up of Russian-born citizens whom have strong memories of Chernobyl. The National Park Service has been receiving many concerned phone calls regarding the contamination and if it will put the surrounding community in danger. In order to tend to the needs of the people, the park service plans to involve the community with the cleanup as much as possible and allow them to have their voices heard. There will be a public meeting on May 15th to discuss cleanup plans.

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