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environment

September 16, 2019 - 3:20pm

Tops Friendly Markets, a leading full-service grocery retailer in New York, Northern Pennsylvania, and Vermont, is proud to announce its registration for the 2019 Clean Up the World (CUTW) program.

Established in 1993, CUTW is one of the largest community-based environmental programs in the world, uniting community groups, schools, businesses, and local governments to carry out activities that address local environmental issues. The organization inspired billions of people across all continents to tread lightly, clean up, and conserve the planet in addition to combating waste and plastic pollution.

In order to fulfill its commitment to the program Tops is hosting a Clean Up the World Weekend, Sept. 20-22, at all 159 of its stores across three states, including its two stores in Genesee County -- Batavia and Le Roy.

Over the course of the three days, 10,000 reusable bags made of 10-percent recyclable materials will randomly be given away, encouraging shoppers to use recycled bags over plastic. This is especially pertinent in New York State where a plastic bag ban is currently in legislation and set to go into effect in March.

Additionally shoppers will learn more about specific earth friendly brands available at Tops including Full Circle, Mrs. Meyers, Method, Seventh Generation and more as they make their own personal choices to make a difference in their own carbon footprint.

Lastly, Tops associates will be participating in environmental clean ups across the communities in which it serves. From river and beach clean ups to beautifying trails and parks, Tops is encouraging its associates to make a difference.

“At Tops Friendly Markets, social responsibility and sustainability have always been at the core of our mission, upholding standards that ensure we reduce environmental waste and energy consumption while providing our customers with sustainably sourced, high-quality products,” said Kathy Sautter, public and media relations manager for Tops Friendly Markets.

“We continue to make great strides in reducing our environmental impact in every facet of our business. For example we are able to reduce the amount of inedible food going back into landfills by recycling over 346 tons of inedible food and over 156 tons of unusable organic products this year alone.”

Across the chain, Tops raises its efficiencies in other ways as well by implementing energy efficient lighting which drastically reduces energy consumption throughout their stores properties. The chain began upgrading interior lighting to LED lights/fixtures thru a program with Lime Energy Services in several of its stores as well as its corporate offices and mailroom. In 2019 these retro-fittings now save over 1,909,725 kWh annually.

As Tops launched into a year of remodels in 2019 LED lighting continues to be used to ensure additional savings. LED lighting was also used in fuel canopies in 2019 helping to save over 181,000 kWh annually in exterior lighting as well.

Tops also took a look at how it could reduce the amount of refrigerant containing ozone depleting gases and retrofitted multiple systems companywide resulting in 20,000 pounds less for an overall 10-percent reduction. Overall the company was able to reduce its leak rates on these harmful refrigerants by 20 percent keeping 5,600 pounds out of the atmosphere.

Tops is also on track to exceed last year’s totals when it comes to recycling. So far this year alone the company has recycled more than 9,500 tons of cardboard and over 395 tons of plastic bags and film.

September 6, 2019 - 1:42pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Lehigh Valley Derailment Site, tce, environment, Le Roy, news, notify.

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Federal and state environmental agencies are continuing to monitor and work on cleanup of contaminants at the Lehigh Train Derailment Superfund Site off of Gulf Road, according to information obtained by The Batavian.

The elimination of TCE contaminants from groundwater in the four-mile-long plume area, which stretches from Gulf Road to four miles east and southeast of the derailment site, is not likely to occur in most of our lifetimes.

The derailment site cleanup was largely forgotten until 2011 when it became the focus of speculation during the Le Roy tic issue when about a dozen high school girls developed spontaneous tic-like movements.

Bob Bowcock, an environmental scientist brought to Le Roy by environmental activist and lawyer Erin Brockovich, determined then that there was no TCE reaching the school property, and it was unlikely the spill site and the tics were linked (the girls were diagnosed with conversion disorder and no scientific evidence ever emerged to contradict that diagnosis).

Information about the spill site made public by the Environmental Protection Agency since then confirm Bowcock's analysis.

In 2017, the Lehigh Valley Railroad corporation, under the direction of the EPA and the DEC, completed a vapor-extraction program at the spill site.

Michael Basile, regional spokesman for the EPA, said the vapor removal effort, which lasted for two years, did remove some TCE, but vapor extraction cannot remove all of it.

"It has been determined that there is TCE embedded in the rock/gravel at the site that cannot be removed via the SVE system," Basile wrote in an email. "Consultants for the responsible party have recently completed a study that has looked at several remedial measures that may be feasible to address the contamination at the site. It is under review by EPA and New York State. EPA will determine the appropriate next steps."

TCE, or trichloroethylene, according to the EPA website, is "a volatile organic compound." It is a clear, colorless liquid that has a sweet odor and evaporates quickly. TCE is a toxic chemical with human health concerns."

After the Lehigh Valley derailment in 1970, a plume of TCE quickly spread to the east and southeast for about four miles, in a human-foot-shaped pattern and groundwater forces around it have kept it contained to that area. It has become embedded in the bedrock of the plume area making it impossible to completely remove.

Eventually, it will all evaporate as hydraulic action brings more and more of it to the surface, but that process will take five decades or more.

"Considering the railroad derailment occurred in December 1970 -- where it was estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 gallons of TCE were spilled onto the ground contaminating the soil and groundwater -- even with the most sophisticated hydrogeological equipment it is very difficult to estimate how much contamination still exists in the area," Basile said.

The EPA says current vapor levels in the plume area are generally below the levels of human health concerns.

Basile said 13 residences in the plume area have been affected by the spill and have vapor-mitigation systems installed in their homes and the EPA continues to monitor these properties.

The public water supply has been protected from the plume, according to the EPA.

"With the extension of the public water supply to the affected homes and businesses, the installation of the soil-vapor mitigation systems on the affected homes, plus continual monitoring of the groundwater, public health and safety concerns continue to be achieved," Basile said.

Top photo: Vapor removal pipes still in place at the derailment site. The vapor removal effort has ended but the pipes remain in place while the EPA and DEC evaluate what steps to take next.

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FIle photo: What the site looked like in 2012. The barrels were removed within weeks after this photo was taken, which was during Bob Bowcock's inspection of the site.

Below is a video produced by the EPA in 2017 about the spill cleanup. It goes into a great amount of detail about the hydraulics of the spill, its history, and how it's being monitored and remediated.

April 29, 2019 - 5:12pm
posted by Billie Owens in Genesee River Basin, news, Oatka Creek, environment.

Press release:

ROCHESTER -- April 29 -- Genesee RiverWatch has released the first-ever “Report Card” grading the water quality and usability of the Genesee River and its major tributaries. The Report Card was developed to raise awareness of the environmental challenges facing the Genesee River Basin so that actions can be taken to improve the state of the watershed and preserve its beauty for generations to come.

“We have been developing this Report Card for a long time and are pleased to release it today," said George Thomas, executive director of Genesee RiverWatch. "We hope the public will take the time to read the full report."

To do so, click here.

"We are happy to answer questions about its grades and their implications," Thomas said. "We are even happier to answer questions about how individuals and organizations can help us continue to improve the river’s water quality and its recreational opportunities."

The overall grade for the Genesee River Basin is a “C” based on the quality of the river’s water at Rochester. This, in turn, reflects the cumulative effects on water quality of all the activities that take place along the Main Stem of the River and all its sub-watersheds stretching to Northern Pennsylvania.

Canaseraga Creek received the lowest grade – “D” – of all the sub-watersheds, indicating poor water quality and limits to human usage.

Oatka Creek and Black Creek received grades of “B” -- the highest grades of all the Genesee River sub-watersheds, indicating good water quality and better opportunities for human usage.

The Upper Basin of the river (south of Letchworth Park), Honeoye Creek and Conesus Creek sub-watersheds received grades of “C.”

In summary, there are portions of the Genesee River Basin that are environmentally in good health. However, major portions of the watershed are degraded to varying degrees.

Data used in this first Report Card is taken from reports published by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and focus on Total Phosphorus and Total Suspended Solids as well as the Department of Environmental Conservation’s assessments of suitability for human use.

Future report cards will also include the growing database of water quality measurements being collected by Genesee RiverWatch’s volunteer water quality monitors.

“The Genesee River is a major asset and resource for our region," said Board President Mike Haugh. "Rochester would not be the metropolitan area it is today if it wasn’t for the river. Its environmental, recreational and economic impact is critical to the future success of our region.

Genesee RiverWatch is dedicated to improving, preserving and celebrating the Genesee River and its tributaries and we hope you will join us in this effort.”

Genesee River Facts

The Genesee River flows 157 miles from its sources near Gold, Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario at Rochester, New York. The Genesee Basin drains approximately 2,500 square miles in Monroe, Livingston, Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming, Ontario, Steuben, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties in New York and Potter County in Pennsylvania. Twenty-four sub-watersheds of the Genesee contain 5,048 miles of streams.

Current land use within the watershed is approximately 52 percent agricultural, 40 percent forest, 4 percent urban, 2 percent wetlands and 2 percent other developed lands.

The Genesee River has been shaped by its glacial history. The last glacier receded around 12,000 years ago, leaving the spectacular Letchworth gorge and magnificent waterfalls, but also unconsolidated soils that erode easily and produce approximately 420,000 tons of river sediment each year.

Genesee RiverWatch

Genesee RiverWatch improves the water quality of the Genesee River and its tributaries to create environmental, recreational and economic assets for its communities. We also connect people to the river, encouraging them to explore, experience and celebrate the river.

Upcoming: Sixth Annual Genesee River Basin Summit

Genesee RiverWatch will host its Sixth Annual Genesee River Basin Summit on Tuesday, May 7, at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Louise Slaughter Hall. The program will begin at 8 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m.

Admission is free and includes a continental breakfast and afternoon break. A noon break will allow attendees to discuss the program over lunch at several food service facilities on the RIT campus. Registration is requested; click here.

July 13, 2018 - 2:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Iron and Metal Co., news, notify, environment, DEC.

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The Department of Environmental Conservation has completed clean up of environmental contamination on city property next door to the former Batavia Iron and Metal Co. property at 301 Bank St.

The former metal recycling plant is a state Superfund site and has been a target of environmental remediation for toxic waste since 2013.

The property in question is land along the northern end of the Dwyer Stadium parking lot.

Clean up of the entire site is almost complete.

From August 2017 to June 2018, crews removed soil along the property line and at the rear of the property.

"The primary goal of the cleanup effort was to ensure effective removal and property disposal of contaminated soil and debris on City property and to restore the property with clean soil," the DEC stated in a report on the project.

The contractor was Nature's Way Environmental, from Alden.

During remediation, 17,000 tons of soil and debris was removed. 

The city property received clean soil and grass seed.

The DEC estimates the remaining surface clean up of the Iron and Metal property will be completed by late 2018.

The site was operated as a metal recycling facility from 1951 to 1999. Two furnaces operated on the property from the early 1970s until 1994. The furnaces reclaimed wire and smelted white metals. Before the furnaces were installed, the company used open-burn dumpsters to remove insulation from wiring.

From these activities, contaminants leached onto city property and three neighboring residential properties.

Cleanup of the residential properties was completed in 2014.

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March 1, 2018 - 4:27pm
Press release:
 
Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer today called for local student entries for the New York State Senate’s Earth Day Poster Contest, a statewide competition that raises awareness of environmental issues.
 
“Earth Day celebrates the great strides made in protecting our environment," Ranzenhofer said. "This poster contest is an opportunity for local school districts to share that commitment with our students. By educating our young minds about protecting our planet, they can be a part of the many New Yorkers who are already helping to improve the quality of air we breathe and the water we drink."
 
The Earth Day poster competition is for children in grades K–6. The theme of the contest is “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” Students are encouraged to be creative and convey a real commitment to making the environment a better place.
 
The focus is to emphasize the importance and encourage the exchange of ideas about recycling and waste reduction, as well as stimulate creative thinking about solutions concerning these issues.
 
School districts and students wishing to participate in this year’s event must submit their entries by April 13 via Senator Ranzenhofer’s website, ranzenhofer.nysenate.gov. Entries should be photographed and submitted electronically, preferably in a jpeg format. 
 
Winning posters will be displayed at Senator Ranzenhofer’s website. All participants will receive a certificate acknowledging their participation.
 
Since the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, more than 20 million Americans have participated, helping to improve the quality of our air and water. In addition, Senator Ranzenhofer voted for a landmark $2.5 billion investment in statewide clean water projects last year, including:
 
Creation of the new Drinking Water Quality Council to bring together experts to review existing evidence, study contaminants of concern and make recommendations to the Department of Health regarding drinking water safety, including state specific thresholds and public notice procedures;
Establishment of the Emerging Contaminant Monitoring Act to require all public water systems to test for unregulated contaminants that are known, or anticipated to be present in drinking water; and
$275 million in continued funding for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and $20 million from the Environmental Protection Fund to be used for clean water projects.
May 12, 2017 - 5:38pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Emerald Ash Borer, DEC, environment, news.

Press release:

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM) today announced that eight existing Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Restricted Zones have been expanded and merged into a single Restricted Zone in order to strengthen the State’s efforts to slow the spread of this invasive pest. 

The new EAB Restricted Zone includes part or all of Albany, Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Chenango, Chemung, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Dutchess, Erie, Genesee, Greene, Livingston, Madison, Monroe, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Orange, Orleans, Oswego, Otsego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Wayne, Westchester, Wyoming, and Yates counties.

The EAB Restricted Zone prohibits the movement of EAB and potentially infested ash wood. The map is available on the DEC website http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7253.html.

“The expanded Restricted Zone for the destructive pest Emerald Ash Borer will help to slow the spread of this tree-killing beetle, protecting millions of ash trees in New York,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “DEC will continue our efforts to slow the spread of this beetle and do what we can to help communities prepare for EAB.”

“It’s critical that we continue to track the Emerald Ash Borer and adjust our efforts to combat and slow the spread of this invasive beetle that damages and kills ash trees in both our forested and urban settings,” said State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball. “By expanding the Restricted Zone, we can ensure that EAB and potentially infested ash wood does not leave the quarantine areas.”

Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) or “EAB” is a serious invasive tree pest in the United States, killing hundreds of millions of ash trees in forests, yards, and neighborhoods. The beetles’ larvae feed in the cambium layer just below the bark, preventing the transport of water and nutrients into the crown and killing the tree. Emerging adult beetles leave distinctive D-shaped exit holes in the outer bark of the branches and the trunk. Adults are roughly 3/8 to 5/8 inch long with metallic green wing covers and a coppery red or purple abdomen. They may be present from late May through early September but are most common in June and July. Other signs of infestation include tree canopy dieback, yellowing, and browning of leaves. 

EAB was first discovered in the United States in 2002 in southeastern Michigan. It was also found in Windsor, Ontario, Canada the same year. This Asian beetle infests and kills North American ash species (Fraxinus sp.) including green, white, black and blue ash. Thus, all native ash trees are susceptible.

EAB larvae can be moved long distances in firewood, logs, branches, and nursery stock, later emerging to infest new areas. These regulated articles may not leave the Restricted Zone without a compliance agreement or limited permit from the Department of Agriculture and Markets, applicable only during the non-flight season (September 1 - April 30).

Regulated articles from outside of the Restricted Zone may travel through the Restricted Zone as long as the origin and the destination are listed on the waybill and the articles are moved without stopping, except for traffic conditions and refueling. Wood chips may not leave the Restricted Zone between April 15th and May 15th of each year when EAB is likely to emerge.

For more information about EAB or the emergency orders, please visit DEC’s website. If you see signs of EAB attack on ash trees outside of the Restrictive Zone, please report these occurrences to the DEC’s Forest Health Information Line toll-free at 1-866-640-0652.

May 1, 2017 - 12:45pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCEDC, environment, schools, education, business, news.

Press release:

International recording artist, environmentalist, and educator, Mr. Eco, will be visiting John Kennedy Primary School on Tuesday, May 9th at 9:30 a.m. for a special performance. Mr. Eco combines hip hop music with lyrics that inspire children to be environmentally conscientious.

The event is being sponsored by the Building Technologies Division at Siemens and hosted in conjunction with the fourth-grade innovators STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) programing at John Kennedy School and the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC).

Mr. Eco’s songs emphasize the active role we all have in creating a sustainable culture, decreasing energy usage, increasing recycling, and working to keep communities free of litter. He has performed for more than 135,000 children across the United States, Canada, Turkey, South Africa, Colombia, St. Lucia, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“Conveying how important it is to take care of our environment to children at a young age is critically important,” said Christopher Dailey, superintendent of Batavia City School District.

“We want to ensure that our students develop environmentally friendly habits early on and we are really looking forward to having Mr. Eco teach them this in such a fun way. We are also very proud of our fourth-grade innovators program and the STEAM course work they have completed this year, so this will be a natural extension of what these students have been learning.”

Siemens’ sponsorship of the concert is in keeping with its support of student achievement, STEAM and sustainability.

“We are excited to honor the students at John Kennedy and the leadership at Batavia City School District for their outstanding accomplishments this year,” said Joseph Peters, Northeast zone manager, Siemens’ Building Technologies Division.     

“An important component of economic development is mitigating the impact of construction projects and other infrastructure work on the surrounding environment,” said Chris Suozzi, vice president of Business Development at GCEDC.

“We need to prepare the future workforce of our county and region to understand this delicate balance so that we can continue growing the economy while protecting the environment.”

For more information about Mr. Eco please visit www.mreco.org.

April 27, 2017 - 1:03pm

Most of this information is from Katherine Bunting-Howarth, New York Sea Grant associate director, Cornell University, the rest is from GLOW Solid Waste:

Twice a year New York residents can take their unused pharmaceuticals back to collection sites statewide --  "no questions asked." It's part of the National Presecription Drug Take Back Day. The first such event for 2017 is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, April 29.

In Genesee County, the drop-off sites set up outside (for drive-by drop-offs) for this occasion are at:

  • the Batavia Police Department parking lot, 10 W. Main St. in the City of Batavia;
  • the Pembroke Town Highway barns at the junction of routes 5 and 77, East Pembroke, the drop-off site will be manned by the Sheriff's Office
  • Le Roy PD

In addition, drop boxes are located at the NY State Police -- Batavia Barracks, 4525 W. Saile Drive, Batavia; the GC Sheriff's Office at 165 Park Road, Batavia; and the Village of Le Roy Police Department, 3 W. Main St. (The Le Roy location also accepts sharps, according to GLOW Region Solid Waste.)

Why people should properly dispose of unwanted medications -- both presription and over-the-counter -- is highlighted in the "Undo the Environmental Chemical Brew: Keep Unwanted Medications and Chemicals Out of the Great Lakes" guide developed by New York Sea Grant.

The guide is posted online at www.nyseagrant.org/unwantedmeds.

The guide written by New York Sea Grant Coastal Education Specialist Helen Domske, associate director of the Great Lakes Program at the University of Buffalo, Buffalo, includes tips on how citizens can keep unwanted pharmaceuticals and personal care products, also called PPCPs, out of local waters and out of the Great Lakes system.

"Taking unused prescription drugs to collection sites helps reduce the impact of unwanted substances on the water resource that provides drinking water to 42 million people in the United States and Canada and aquatic habitat for a host of fishes and other wildlife," Domske said.

The Undo the Chemical Brew guide lists 17 different types of PPCPs, including antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives, antidepressants, cosmetics, and vitamins, that are finding their way into the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for 42 million people in the United States and Canada.

Research by New York Sea Grant and other science organizations has tracked the feminization of fish populations downstream from wastewater treatment plants to estrogen and its components found in prescription drugs.

"Researchers are increasingly documenting the impact of bioactive chemical substances in PPCPs throughout the aquatic food web on fishes, frogs, mussels and other freshwater organisms. We do not want people flushing unwanted and unused medicines down the toilet or drain," Domske said.

A New York Sea Grant-funded, two-year research project that began in February 2016 is examining the effectiveness of advanced water treatment options, environmental levels and potential effects of pharmaceuticals in New York waters.

The biannual National Prescription Drug Take Back Days are an initiative of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in cooperation with law enforcement agencies nationwide. Authorized collection sites are posted on the website at https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/

New York Sea Grant, a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York, is one of 33 university-based programs under the National Sea Grant Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. New York Sea Grant has Great Lakes offices in Buffalo, Newark and Oswego.

April 22, 2017 - 7:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Earth Day, DeWitt Recreation Area, environment, news.

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Volunteers of all ages came out to DeWitt Recreation Area in Batavia today -- Earth Day -- to help clean the park and participate in various learning activities.

One of the activities was an "emerald ash borer game," where several children were emerald ash borers, two were volunteers and one was a park ranger. The emerald ash borers had 10 seconds to lay their eggs in as many ash trees in a wooded area (represented by small, green disks). Then volunteers would identify infected trees and the park ranger would come along and replace the ash trees with another kind of tree. The game illustrated how much faster an infestation can spread than forest rangers can act to do anything about it.

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April 5, 2017 - 9:54am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Oatka Creek Watershed Committee, Le Roy, news, environment.

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Press release:

The Oatka Creek Watershed Committee Inc. (OCWC) is indebted to the Victor L. Blood and Maudaline L. Blood Charitable Foundation Inc. for its generous support for our Storm Drain Marking Project in the Village of Le Roy. 

Over the years of meeting and working with the community of Le Roy, we have heard so many stories and found memories of the creek. Anyone can see why this place holds a very special place in the hearts of the residents.

The committee is currently working to complete the marking of storm drains in the village that run directly to the creek. Storm-water runoff is a leading cause of water pollution. We will be securing metal medallions that have sayings like “No Dumping” and “Drains to Creek” on them. Last year, more than 100 markers were installed. This year, we are hoping to mark 400!

Come and help OCWC finish installing markers on storm drains around  the Village! It’s fun and easy, and helps remind folks that what goes down the drain, ends up in the Oatka Creek.

We will be meeting April 15 – the Saturday right before Easter –  at 8:30 a.m. in the parking lot behind the Le Roy United Methodist Church (off Trigon Park). We will be working until noon. We have all the supplies, so just bring yourself and wear comfortable shoes.

Rain Date: April 29th -- same time/same place.

If you can lend a hand, give Pete a call at 585.538.2223 or email him at [email protected]

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January 30, 2017 - 1:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Lehigh Derailment Site, Le Roy, environment, news.

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It's been five years since a site of a toxic chemical spill in Le Roy -- known as the Lehigh Train Derailment Site -- made the news as part of a media frenzy around reports of students at the high school developing strange, unexplained tics, but cleanup work has been ongoing since, according to a spokesman for the EPA.

In fact, good progress has been made and the end may be in sight for remediation, according to Michael Basile, who represents the Environmental Protection Agency in Buffalo.

There's no firm timeline for completion of the work, but there have been two significant recent developments, he said.

First, last year some 300 pounds of trichloroethene (TCE) contaminated soil was removed from the area, he said. That removal effort is ongoing and will continue until testing shows TCE has been removed from the area. (CORRECTION: This should have read 300 pounds of TCE removed from the soil).

Second, a draft document on remediation options for contaminated groundwater has been completed and the EPA will pick a plan from those options for remediation sometime this year.

The TCE spill was the result of a train crash at the site on Gulf Road in the early morning hours of Dec. 6, 1970. Approximately 2,000 pounds of cyanide crystals and 30,000 to 35,000 gallons of TCE were spilled. The cyanide was removed, but at the time Lehigh apparently didn't have an easy way to remove the TCE. Instead, it tried saturating the area with one million gallons of water. This only drove the TCE deeper into the ground and contaminated about 50 water wells.

The site became a footnote in local history until 2012 when a group of mostly girls at Le Roy High School were reported to have developed odd tics and uncontrolled movements.  As families and members of the community searched for answers, the spill site became a target for investigation.

Famed environmental crusader Erin Brockovich was contacted, and though she never personally came to Le Roy, she sent out a team of scientists led by Robert Bowcock.  

The entire event had reached a fevered pitch in the national media by that point, with news crews from nearly ever major news outlet in the country arriving in Le Roy, as well as crews from as far away as Japan.

A trip to the site on the day Bowcock arrived in town revealed a cleanup area that appeared to be largely neglected. More than 300 rusted barrels of material were being stored there, further feeding concerns about the state of contamination.

However, Bowcock's own tests and his examination the topography of the region, led the Los Angeles-based environmental scientist to conclude that contamination from the site did not and could not reach the location of the high school and there was no known connection for all those suffering from the tics to the railroad property contamination.

The ongoing concern about its status, however, brought about a visit to the site by Congresswoman Kathy Hochul. Sen. Charles Schumer also got involved.

The EPA soon closed the location to media access and brought in crews to remove the barrels, which the EPA said were filled with rock, sand and dirt and did not likely contain contaminated soil. Later testing, the EPA announced at the time, detected a trace amount of TCE in some barrels.  

In the five years since the events, there have been no new reports of strange tics among young people in Le Roy and there have been reports that the dozen or so people originally treated at the Dent Neurological Institute are all improved, confirming the earlier diagnoses of a mass psychogenic illness. 

The EPA continues to monitor the site closely, Basile said. This includes maintaining soil vapor monitors in homes near where the spill occurred. Next month, he said, it will be time for inspectors to visit those monitors and change their filters. That monitoring is expected to continue indefinitely. 

Photo: File photo from 2012.

January 24, 2017 - 4:36pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in news, Trump Administration, environment.

So far it looks like a sweeping activity freeze placed on the Environmental Protection Agency by the Trump Administration will have little impact locally.

The new directive bars the EPA from issue new grants or entering new contracts.

In some regions this could mean brownfield redevelopment projects could see funding delayed or eliminated, but City Manager Jason Molino said none of the Batavia Opportunity Area projects depend on federal funding, so the change in policy will have no impact on the BOA.

Molly S. Cassatt, managing director of the county's Soil and Water Conservation District, said there are no pending grants impacted by the order, but she isn't sure about the status of a recent grant application. The district joined seven other counties in the region, she said, on a grant application for a sediment and nutrient reduction project in the Genesee River Watershed. The eastern half of Genesee County, which includes Oatka and Black creeks, is part of that watershed.

If that grant is blocked, she said, there is still state money available to help with the project in those creeks.

County Manager Jay Gsell said he isn't away of any immediate impact on county government.

The Trump Administration has also ordered the EPA to cease all public communication, including the issuing of press releases, participation in social media and blogs and website updates.

We emailed the EPA to check the status of funding for cleanup of the superfund project in Le Roy, the Lehigh Train Derailment Site, which was seemingly neglected until 2012 when the Le Roy tic issue came up, and a staff member responded referring us to the Buffalo EPA representative. We called his office and he is out of the office for the day.

The USDA has received the same communications order.

We tried calling the local USDA office, located on Liberty Street, and we were referred to the public relations officer for the region, based in Syracuse. This would probably be standard procedure anyway, but the officer asked us to email our question about local news media communication. He's since responded that he will provide a response as soon as possible.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer issued the brief statement about the EPA's freeze on grants and contracts:

“EPA’s fundamental mission to protect clean air and clean water for public health and safety is being impeded by the unprecedented decision to freeze all grants and contracts. This decision could have damaging implications‎ for communities across New York, from delaying testing for lead in schools to restricting efforts to keep drinking water clean to holding up much-needed funding to revitalize toxic brownfield sites. The Administration should reverse this damaging policy immediately,” Schumer said.

August 4, 2016 - 1:13pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in weather, drought, water, environment.

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There isn't much water flowing in the Tonawanda Creek, but the blue heron are still there hunting for meals.

Genesee County, like the rest of Western New York, is officially in a drought warning, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

That means there are no official restrictions on water use, but residents and businesses are asked to voluntarily conserve.

Tim Hens, whose responsibilities include, as county highway superintendent, watching over the county's water supply, said the county and city discussed issuing a water advisory, but decided that doesn't appear to be necessary and probably won't be necessary through the summer, even if no significant rain arrives before winter.

"We haven't had more than an inch of rain in a single day since October of last year," Hens said. "That's a long time for Western New York."

He said this is the dryest summer with the most consecutive sunny days he can remember in 45 years as a county resident.

"Unfortunately, we're probably already past the point of no return for farmers," he said.

Hens said current reserves and the available water from the Monroe County Water Authority gives the county, and by extension, the city, enough water to meet current needs and he doesn't anticipate a spike in demand.

"Most people seem to have given up on their lawns," he said.

The low water level at DeWitt Recreation Area has created a wide land bridge to the lake's island. The land bridge has been exposed all summer and the first time it's appeared in several years. The current level is just 3 inches above the record low, a record set in 2001.

The long-range forecast calls for a pretty snowy winter.

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April 23, 2016 - 1:36pm

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As part of an Earth Day observance, volunteers came out to the DeWitt Recreation Area in Batavia to help with spring cleanup.

The walk around the park was about more than just trash pickup. It included a guided nature walk led by Amy Jessmer, from Albion, with a degree in environmental science from SUNY Brockport, where she is currently working on her master's degree. Jessmer spoke about native and non-native species and the environmental balance of the lake and surrounding habitat.

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The water level of DeWitt is exceptionally low. George Squires, retired from the county's soil and water department, said he doesn't believe he's seen it this low since the 1980s.

April 9, 2016 - 8:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, steve hawley, Recycling, environment, news.

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The vehicles filled with electronic waste were lined up and down Route 5 this morning, and by this afternoon, trailers were stuffed and bins were gorged with has-beens of the Digital Age, all destined to appropriate recycling facilities rather than a landfill.

The event outside the county's Social Services building was organized by Assemblyman Steve Hawley and his staff with a heaping trove of help from the Batavia High School Track Team.

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September 15, 2015 - 11:07am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Stafford, hydrofracking, environment.

The Town of Stafford became the first local community to ban hydrofracking within its borders with a 4-0 vote of the board on Monday night following a public hearing where every speaker supported the ban.

Fracking involves using hydraulic force, with a mixture of water, chemicals and sand, to extract gas from shale. The technique is controversial. Opponents believe the process generates soil and water contamination.

"This is the wisest, the safest and the best thing to do for our community for many years to come," said resident Judy Manly.

Another speaker, who didn't provide her name, said it was up to Stafford to protect itself because the town can't count on the legislature or governor to ban it and current state Department of Environemtnal Conservation regulations could easily be overturned by another administration.

"Passing this law in our town is a safety measure that we absolutely need," she said.

Three years in the making, the law prohibits extraction, exploration, storage of wastes, and other activities in connection with underground injections for petroleum or gas production within the Town of Stafford limits.

July 9, 2014 - 4:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, environment, NY-27, chris collins.

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today questioned Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator, Honorable Robert W. Perciasepe, at a Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on the EPA’s overreaching rule proposal entitled “Definition of the ‘Waters of the United States’ Under the Clean Water Act.”

“The problem is the public doesn't trust the EPA, farmers don't trust the EPA not to overreach, Congress doesn't trust the EPA,” said Congressman Collins during today’s hearing.

“Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and the EPA fail to recognize that their agency’s overreach is causing real harm for farmers and stalling business development across our country,” Congressman Collins said. “When I visit with farmers in my district, the heavy burdens under the Clean Water Act come up each and every time. When the bureaucrats at the EPA decide to call a divot in the ground that fills with rain a ‘navigable waterway’ under the CWA, we know our federal government has run amuck. The fact that the EPA and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers are now looking to formally broaden the definition of ‘navigable waters’ is an insult to hard working farmers all across this country.”

May 31, 2014 - 2:30pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, environment, O-AT-KA Milk Products.

O-AT-KA Milk Products was issued a notice of violation by the DEC on April 24 for chemicals and waste materials being spilled into a lagoon south of Ellicott Street.

The company is complying with all DEC demands and requirements for dealing with spills from its dairy processing plant at the corner of Cedar and Ellicott streets, said David Crisp, director of business development for O-AT-KA.

The spills were brought to the attention of the DEC by Attica resident John Volpe (pictured above), a Native American well known locally for his environmental work.

Volpe said he's concerned about the health and well being of the fish, turtles, frogs and other wildlife in the lagoon, which is part of a 110-acre wildlife refuge owned by Chapin Manufacturing. The creatures, Volpe said, are part of the chain of life.

"This is how we look at our own life," Volpe said. "These are our teachers. All of our relations means just that. They’re all of our relations. You don’t leave out a worm or an eagle or whatever. We’re supposed to watch it and we’re supposed to protect it. That’s one of our jobs as among the people who walk this earth. It should be everybody’s job."

Volpe shared documents he said show serious environmental damage to the lagoon, including photos of more than 100 dead fish and dissection photos taken of dead animals -- such as turtles, frogs and fish -- showing medical issues (Volpe emphasized several times that he and his helpers never killed any animals, but merely took for samples and evidence animals they found dead).

The DEC letter accuses O-AT-KA of violating its SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit and three sections of environmental law.

The letter specifically accuses O-AT-KA of causing a drop in water quality standards for pH, solids and water color from spills on at least six separate occasions. The spills, according to the DEC, contained milk and/or cleaning solutions.

The letter also specifically cites a fish kill of various species April 15.

O-AT-KA was accused of discharging water that causes or contributes to conditions in violation of state code; discharging industrial waste in violation of state code; and discharging pollutants at a frequency or volume in excess of permitted standards.

The company was given until May 7 a turn over a document called "Best Management Practices" as well as a summary of response actions, investigations and corrective measures taken for each reported spill since August 2013. 

By yesterday, O-AT-KA was required to complete a facility review and submit a corrective action plan designed to prevent or minimize potential damage from future spills.

The DEC also required O-AT-KA to install a continuous recording pH meter.

Crisp said O-AT-KA has been fully compliant with the DEC's requirements, an assertion confirmed by Linda Vera, spokeswoman for the DEC in WNY. 

"O-AT-KA has taken a number of actions to mitigate and prevent additional discharges," Vera said.

Crisp said a DEC official was on hand one day recently when an alarm sounded from the new system indicating there was an increase in pH in the outflow line to the discharge pipe and the officials saw firsthand that plant workers responded immediately to correct the problem.

"It really comes down to how dedicated O-AT-KA is to the highest level of environmental protection," Crisp said. "That's why we're working with the DEC to assure O-AT-KA is in compliance with the SPDES permit."

There were two spills of milk, Vera said. One in August and another in October. She said steps were taken to prevent future spills and there have been no similar discharges since October.

"The remaining incidents were related to cleaning solution discharges," Vera said. "Action was taken after each incident to determine the source, and O-AT-KA added monitoring equipment and changed practices to mitigate the issue. During DEC's early May inspection, the probable source was identified. A deteriorated flooring in one of production areas allowed cleaning/disinfection solution to seep into a deteriorated pipe beneath floor. O-AT-KA is taking necessary actions to repair piping and floor."

It's still possible O-AT-KA could be fined for the spills, but the DEC has made no determination yet on further enforcement actions, Vera said.

One source we spoke to for this story suggested we look at the notice of violation delivered to O-AT-KA in context of how many DEC violation notices are handed out locally in a year, suggesting that there's nothing remarkable about a company getting a letter of violation.

According to the DEC's database of spills, there have been 76 incidents reported in the past 12 months in Genesee County. Eight of those have been tied to O-AT-KA, which more than any other source in the county. Only three of those spills -- where the size of the spill is known -- involve 100 gallons or more, and two of those involve O-AT-KA. Those are a spill of 125 gallons of milk product in August 2013 and 3,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide in January.

There were 48 incidents countywide reported in the prior 12 months, none involving O-AT-KA.

The series of spills has been a concern to Chapin, CEO Jim Campbell said, and company officials have met several times with O-AT-KA officials to review the measures taken to prevent future problems.

The 110-acre preserve includes nature trails available to employees and the area is teaming with wildlife, Campbell said. Andris Chapin, a family owner and chairman of the board, is keenly aware of environment issues, Campbell said, and once a year takes interested employees on a nature trail walk through the preserve. 

The company also has an environmental manager. He is Mark Volpe, who is also the plant manager and is John Volpe's brother.

Campbell said Chapin is confident O-AT-KA is responding appropriately. It's his understanding, he said, that O-AT-KA has spent more than $100,000 on preventative measures. He said O-AT-KA has recently brought in new executives with a good deal of technical experience in environmental issues.

"They've done a great job and have a great solution in place," Campbell said.

John and Mark Volpe started monitoring and measuring the Chapin's 110-acre habitat in 2008, acquiring and maintaining detailed records on the species and quality of life in the preserve.

It was through that process that John Volpe became increasingly concerned about spills from the O-AT-KA plant, which he said go back further than the August 2013 date covered by the DEC letter.

As he saw more and more environmental damage to the lagoon, he began raising concerns to the DEC, to the point, he believes, that some officials at the DEC started trying to avoid his phone calls.

In his workshop at his home in Attica, Volpe showed dozens of presentation boards displaying charts and tables documenting discharge dates, water temperatures, pH readings and photos of dissected animals and dead fish.

When Volpe found dead fish, he and his helpers photographed where each fish was found, collected them, brought them back to Attica, weighed and identified the species of each fish and photographed each one individually.

The dead fish included sunfish, bullhead and bass.

The DEC was slow to act on contamination issues at the lagoon, contends Volpe.

"Why didn’t the DEC do this and cite them sooner so maybe these fish would still be alive?" Volpe said. "This is not the first fish kill. We’ve had other fish kills."

Volpe's wife caught in a net one bass near death. It was blind, had lost all its slime and was emaciated. The Volpes have nursed it back to health. It's eating again and its eyes have cleared of the haze that covered the pupils. The fish has become more active in its tank.

The blindness and loss of slime is a result of a high pH in the water as well as sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide reaching the lagoon.

Volpe is also concerned about the water temperature in the lagoon, which he said was above 60 degrees in March (he takes the water temperature every day) and the turtles and frogs need the water below at least 50 degrees to hibernate.

There is also evidence of frogs "toxing out," Volpe said. The toxins in the water cause their legs to shoot straight out, become rigid and they can't jump. Eventually, they die.

Volpe was arrested in February and accused of illegal possession of protected turtles and birds of prey. 

The DEC had known for years and years about Volpe's conservation efforts involving wildlife, his friend and supporter Mike Bastine said during a meeting at Volpe's house. It was only after Volpe started making waves about O-AT-KA that the DEC decided to come down hard on Volpe.

"If you look at the implications from the spills that he has documented, that has a much greater impact on the environment than the violations they subjected him to," Bastine said. "Is the issue really about protecting the environment and the animals and the life around us? No, not really.

"They think if they can shut that part of his work down, he's going to go away and say, 'they beat me,' that he'll have to throw in the towel because he can't defend himself. They're hounding us saying we need a permit to hold a feather or care for turtles, but that's our responsibility and that's our custom. It's our job. It's our duty to step in an assist."

In her e-mail response to a series of questions, Vera did not respond to the accusation that Volpe has been targeted for enforcement because of his O-TA-KA complaints.

She said the DEC had been monitoring O-AT-KA independently of Volpe, but found his work helpful. 

"DEC's actions have been ongoing, and are not dependent on Mr. Volpe's findings," Vera said. "However, some of the discharges discovered by Mr. Volpe, have provided assistance in mitigating the discharges and investigating potential sources."

Volpe said he's also concerned because the lagoon sits over the Batavia's aquifer. All of the city's water is pumped from wells in the area. He thinks the contaminants could seep into the aquifer.

City Manager Jason Molino said that really isn't a concern. Even if any contaminants reached the aquifer, the city treats all of its water before it's distributed.

Molino's confident, he said, the DEC has things under control.

"We've spoken with O-AT-KA and the DEC," Molino said. "I think the DEC is aware of the situation and has responded to it and are in constant communication with O-AT-KA. Otherwise, it's outside our jurisdiction."

This photo is from Genesee County's GIS map. The photographs that comprise the map were taken in April 2013. The Chapin Lagoon is in the lower left. O-AT-KA's plant is in the upper right. There is a dirt road that Hanson Aggregates uses running from Ellicott Street. Beside it is a drainage ditch, which apparently is how runoff from O-AT-KA reaches the lagoon. We have no confirmation of what the milky white substance is in the lagoon, but there is no spill around that time period reported in the DEC database.

Sign by drainage pipe that runs under Ellicott Street to a stream that runs to the Chapin Lagoon.

One of the no trespassing signs marking the property line of Chapin's 110-acre wildlife refuge.

March 19, 2014 - 11:57am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Oakfield, environment, water.

Press release:

Several of the initial water samples collected this week from private drinking water wells located near Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road -- east of Route 63, and Lewiston Road south of Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road -- have confirmed bacteriological contamination of coliform bacteria and E. coli. Residents who had their water tested and confirmed positive have been notified at this time. These organisms can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants and people with compromised immune systems. Residents in this area who are experiencing these symptoms should contact their medical provider.

Although the contamination has been confirmed, the exact origin and extent cannot be determined without further analysis, the Genesee County Health Department will assist the Department of Environmental Conservation in this process in the near future.

Impacted residents are urged to continue to follow the instructions below until their water can be confirmed safe to drink. With the extent of the contamination unknown at this time, re-occurrence of contamination is possible.

If you are living in the identified area and would like your well water tested, please contact the Genesee County Health Department at (585) 344-2580, ext. 5525. There is no charge for this testing.

March 17, 2014 - 7:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, agriculture, Oakfield, environment, boil water advisory.

A single positive well test Friday set off an alert for residents in the area of Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road and Lewiston Road to boil their drinking and cooking water, officials confirmed this afternoon.

The test found bacteria in the well water of a single residence on Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road, said George Squires, manager of the Genesee County Soil and Water Conservation District.

"It may be attributed to some manure spreading that may have gone on in the area," Squires said. "I was out of town all last week and just found out Friday myself. I don't have a lot of details because I've not been out there myself yet. I spoke briefly with a farmer and his consultant this morning and the health department this afternoon. I don't have a lot of details and I don't feel comfortable about making any conclusions yet."

County Health Director Paul Pettit said the affected area is no more than 25 parcels.

"We haven't pinpointed the exact source," Pettit said. "We wanted to alert the residents of those houses right around that area that there may be an issue with wells in the area."

There was a communication miscue on Friday, Pettit said. The health department alerted the Emergency Dispatch Center and the Emergency Services Office with the expectation that the alert they drafted would be sent only to the affected 25 or so residents. There was no intention to send out a media release, since it was such a small section of the county. Instead, the alert was sent out countywide and regional TV stations mistakenly reported that there was a boil water advisory for all of Genesee County.

The confusion led today to the City of Batavia putting out its own announcement informing residents that there is no boil water advisory for the city.

The communication Friday is "something we need to review and look at," Pettit said.

Both Squires and Pettit discussed the difficulty farmers face this time of year. They're eager to prepare crop lands for tillage and planting, which requires properly timed manure spreading, but there are also regulations for larger farmers that govern when they can do it.

"Larger farms are supposed to monitor weather and predict significant melting events," Squires said. "They're not supposed to spread in advance of an event like that. This time of a year, predicting warm temperatures in advance gets to be a little bit of a challenge."

It's a violation of a farm's permit, Squires said, to contaminate ground or surface water.

There may have been one or two other spills in county recently, Squires said, but there's been complaints about wells elsewhere in the county (Squires said he didn't have details yet; the spills could have been in areas that are already on public water, therefore well water wouldn't be contaminated).

"I need to get ahold of the DEC and find out what's going on," Squires said.

A week ago, a reader in Oakfield contacted The Batavian to complain about a possible manure spill. We requested info from the DEC but have not received any further information. Neither Squires nor Pettit were aware of any reported spills in the area prior to the well complaint received on Friday.The single well on Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road is the only confirmed instance of well contamination at this time.

For more on what to do when a boil water advisory is issued for your area, click here.

UPDATE: Here's a map of the affected area, provided by the County Health Department.

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