On Monday, January 24th, 2017, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health released the final Record of Decision detailing the plan to remove soil contaminated by lead and arsenic from the former Geneva Foundry site and from around 220 residential properties in the vicinity.
The decision surprised many, as the DEC had originally given a deadline of January 28th for public comments to be submitted to their office. While a four-day difference may not seem like much, it adds another layer of mistrust for those Geneva residents who are impacted by the contamination. The surprise decision gives the appearance that the DEC had heard enough from the public and decided to release their final decision earlier than they had promised.
Estimated Cleanup Time For Residents Still Unknown
In addition, the Record of Decision does not offer the same residential cleanup timeframe of 3 years that was reported by Steve Orr of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
“Remediation of the off-site properties will be a multi-year project. The Department expects to be able to provide a more specific estimate once the first group of properties are finished.”
An earlier estimate from the DEC stated that around 20 off-site properties could be remediated each year. With an estimated 220 properties to be remediated, this would take 11 years.
So, for those Geneva residents who are wondering how long the cleanup of their properties will take and who may have been encouraged by the 3-year estimate provided by the Rochester D&C, you will probably have to wait at least a year to know more. But at least the vacant lot will be ready for development!
Foundry Lot Will Be Cleaned Up Before Hundreds of Residents
The “Responsiveness Summary” of the Record of Decision includes public comments that were received and the DEC’s responses. Page 33 answers the question of why the vacant Foundry lot will be completed before hundreds of residential properties:
COMMENT 10: It sounds like the plan is to clean up the foundry site before cleaning up people’s properties. Why not clean up their properties first? Is it because the city of paying for the foundry site?
RESPONSE 10: The cleanup for both the foundry site and the off-site properties will proceed on parallel paths once this Record of Decision is issued. The timing to perform the cleanup of the offsite properties is independent of the cleanup at the foundry site. Since the foundry site cleanup is a much smaller project, it is expected to be finished first.
Although there has been significant public feedback asking for the DEC and the City to assure that the safety of families is prioritized over the cleanup of the vacant Foundry lot, it’s clear that officials are going to proceed with their original plan, and are choosing to believe that by citing administrative restrictions, they can justify the vacant lot cleanup being completed first, before hundreds of taxpaying citizens’ backyards are safe again.
At least 136 residents have filed legal claims against the state, city and county for lead contamination on their properties related to the Foundry.
Geneva City Manager Matt Horn has stated:
“The city did what it was responsible for…the state maybe should have told the residents the results of any testing they did. The city didn’t have the expertise to say what the testing numbers meant.”
The idea that Passero Associates and O’Brien & Gere, the two companies hired by the city to conduct the testing in 1998, 2005, and 2008, had no one on their staff who could interpret the meaning of elevated lead and arsenic levels and relate the potential dangers faced by residents to city staff is beyond improbable.
In August of 2000, a report submitted by Passaro Associates and Larsen Engineers described elevated levels of lead and arsenic at offsite locations discovered after tests done in 1998. The report also referenced (and included a copy of) a 1987 DOH memo warning that residents near the Foundry wash any vegetables grown in residentials gardens before eating.
The report stated:
Elevated levels of heavy metals in the soils on nearby properties represent potential exposure to residents in the following manners:
• Ingestion of garden soils;
• Direct contact with garden soils while digging and planting seeds;
• Inhalation of dust while gardening;
• Potential direct contact with surface runoff from the Foundry.
Even someone lacking in “expertise” who saw this report in 2000 would have to realize that there was a danger posed to residents from lead contamination.
In June 2006, a Supplemental Remedial Investigation/Alternatives Analysis Report was submitted by the City of Geneva, and while it downplays potential offsite contamination by questioning whether the contamination is Foundry-related, it also clearly states the lead levels in soil that are considered a danger:
“Another source of guidance pertaining to lead concentrations in soils is the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Identification of Dangerous Levels of Lead. 40 CFR Part 745.227Q)(4) states that
“A soil-lead hazard is present:
(i) In a play area when the soil-lead concentration from a composite play area sample of bare soil is equal to or greater than 400 parts per million; or
(ii) In the rest of the yard when the arithmetic mean lead concentration from a composite sample (or arithmetic mean of composite samples) of bare soil from the rest of the yard (i.e. non-play areas) for each residential building on a property is equal to or greater than 1,200 parts per million.”
Again, even if a City official lacked “expertise,” their own consultants and documentation provided more than enough information to warrant issuing a warning to the public.
Were city officials legally obligated to disclose findings of high levels of lead and arsenic to the residents who gave permission to have their yards tested? Probably not.
Were city officials morally obligated to stop and say, ‘wow, these citizens are planting gardens and their children are playing on yards with elevated levels of lead and arsenic…even though we don’t know the cause, we should at least warn them of what we know’?
That depends on your definition of morality.
Gordy Was There
In 1999, Gordon Eddington became the Director of Public Works for the City of Geneva, and he took the lead in the effort to clean up the Geneva Foundry.
- In August 2000, the previously-mentioned report was submitted, with evidence of elevated levels of lead and arsenic in gardens near the Foundry dating back to 1987.
- In late 2004, more residential soil testing was completed, and additional testing was done in 2006 after the Foundry was demolished, with tests showing elevated levels of lead and arsenic.
- In June 2006, the above-mentioned SRI report clearly stated the levels at which lead is considered a danger in soil.
- In an August 2006 email between the DEC’s Jim Craft and Eddington, discussion of offsite contamination focused primarily on whether or not the contamination in the offsite properties was caused by the Foundry, and how the cleanup would be paid for. There was no discussion of warning residents of potential dangers.
- In an email in September/October of 2007, Craft strongly recommended GIS-based mapping technology to track and study residential contamination test results. Eddington stated that he would be in favor “if it is reimbursable.”
- In a March 2008 email to Eddington, Craft tersely stated that a recently submitted request from the City of Geneva for reimbursement for the Foundry demolition was “very disappointing” as it lacked a significant amount of required information. Craft said that the request was “devoid of any detail as to what occurred at the site” and “In short, the document lacks the information necessary to confirm the work performed and the costs incurred.”
- Additional residential testing was done in 2008 and evidence of elevated levels of lead and arsenic were found.
Gordon Eddington retired as director of the DPW in 2011.
Gordon Eddington claimed at the January City Council meeting that the work he did for the City related to the Foundry after his retirement in 2011 was done as a “volunteer.”
Giving Eddington the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that since 2011, he was just “Gordon Eddington, Volunteer,” a nice guy doing his best to help out, saving the City thousands of dollars, while trying to finish a job that he wanted to see completed (albeit clumsily and without a real sense of urgency).
But what about “Gordon Eddington, City Employee” from 1999-2011?
First, when Eddington retired, considering the weight of responsibility for the Foundry cleanup, he should have stated, “This absolutely cannot be outsourced to a consultant. This is about people’s safety and therefore needs the full oversight of a full-time staffer. And I also think I’d better tell City Council so they can build in some accountability.”
But he did not.
Eddington knew about the contamination when he became head of the DPW in 1999, and his response was to communicate with the DEC and consultants and do nothing else. He never briefed City Council, and he never sent an alert to the residents. This shows that he not only mishandled it as a consultant, but had been mishandling it from the start as an employee.
In the best case scenario, Eddington, paid city employee and Foundry cleanup project manager from 1999-2011, took a careless stance not only toward cleanup efforts but also toward basic notifications.
Eddington was a city employee in a management position, paid with City funds, working for the City and its residents, who didn’t raise a red flag within his own department, let alone up the chain of command, about widespread residential contamination. The Department of Health report was there, multiple SRIs were there, years of tests and other reports were there, and he did as little as possible to address the problem and nothing to warn residents.
Eddington cannot defend his work for the City on the Foundry issue. Why, in 1999, didn’t he wave the report aloft and start demanding the DEC follow up? Why not in 2002? 2005? 2010? 2011? Why did it take him 20 years?
Well, we can’t ask him. He’s been instructed not to comment on the Foundry issue by the City’s attorneys.
In January 2016, Gordon Eddington began a 4-year term as City Councilor-At-Large, representing all 13,000+ residents of Geneva.
If the public had known how irresponsibly he had handled the Foundry issue for two decades, it’s hard to imagine he’d be sitting on Council today.
Hopefully, the public will remember what Gordon Eddington has done to the residents of the City who unknowingly lived on contaminated soil in the City’s 5th and 6th Wards for two decades while he kept the danger a secret from them.