Tompkins County
New York

Report or Discussion Item

Executive Summary 2016 Annual Report Radiation and Chemical Disposal Sites, Cornell University, Lansing, NY


Department:Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality CommitteeSponsors:
Category:EnvironmentalFunctions:Airport, Environmental

Meeting History

Oct 5, 2017 3:00 PM  Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee Regular Meeting

Dennis Shaw and Andrew Murphy, Environmental Compliance Office, Cornell University, briefly reviewed the Executive Summary of the 2016 Annual Report, Radiation and Chemical Disposal Sites, Lansing, NY. In advance of the meeting an electronic copy of the full report and copies of maps were provided to Committee members.

Mr. Murphy explained that he has been involved with the management of these sites since about 2010 and has provided presentations to the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee as requirement by the access agreements with the County allowing his team to access the Airport property to manage the sites.

Mr. Murphy explained there are two hazardous disposal sites off Snyder Hill Road, north of the Airport, and were active disposal sites in the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Since the 1980’s they have been undergoing various studies, evaluations, planning efforts, iterations of remedial construction, and corrective measures meant to address the contamination that resulted from these to the ground water in the area. The ground-water contamination does extend to the Airport property hence the access agreement with the County.

Mr. Murphy stated the actual construction portion of the remediation that included digging and the installation of piping, pumps, wells, and buildings ended in 2004. Since that time they have been conducting operations, maintenance, and monitoring of the systems in place. There are several ground-water collection systems and two are located on the Airport property. Each site on the Airport property has a collection system that brings contaminated ground water back to the central ground water treatment plants where it is treated and discharged.

Mr. Murphy said since these sites were closed in the 1970’s they have slowly been making progress and the ground-water contamination plumes are slowly shrinking in size and concentration. The remediation objectives have not been met and they will continue to put forth the efforts to reach them and for that reason they need to continue the access agreement at the Airport property.

Ms. Robertson asked if there was a time period attached to the remedial objectives that have not been met. Mr. Murphy said there was not a time period and they will keep working on this until those objectives are achieved.

Ms. Kiefer explained that several universities discovered they had these problems on many sites. She spoke of another school looking to remediate at the same time as Cornell University and that school decided to dig up the entire site. Cornell University decided to manage the site by securing the area including above ground and to the extent possible from beneath; however, there may be interaction below ground from the sides of the site and the very bottom of the sites are still open. The bottom of the site will always be questionable due to the fact it is still open. If the gradient can be kept negative it would be good so the contamination does not leak from the site. Ms. Kiefer inquired about a key for the maps provided regarding the symbols and initials and she asked where the treatment system was located on the map. Mr. Murphy explained that the actual building of the ground-water treatment plant is on map 7-1.

Ms. Kiefer asked if the treated water was discharged to a stream. Mr. Murphy said it is an intermittent stream, the discharge is done just outside the building and it meanders through surface water through to the engineered pond and onto surface water.

Ms. Chock asked if the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) still provides active oversight of this remediation. Mr. Murphy stated they do provide active oversight and will be on-site tomorrow. He said his office provides testing results to the DEC on a monthly basis.

Ms. Chock expressed concern at the length of time they have been working to clean this up and the water quality is still exceeding the acceptable levels. She also asked since these levels are still exceeding the acceptable levels if DEC will change what they require Mr. Murphy and his colleagues to do. Mr. Murphy stated the trend over time shows decreasing levels and trending downwards. They are still working on reducing them further and believes the trends are positive.

Ms. Chock inquired if there was an amount known as to how much has been spent cleaning this contamination up. Mr. Murphy does not know the expense involved.

Ms. Chock inquired about residential drinking water in that region and asked about the closest neighborhood. Mr. Murphy explained that during the remedial investigation established years ago it was determined that there was no one on well water in the plume areas and the plume does extend onto the Airport property.

Ms. Chock asked if there were maps available depicting how the plume has changed over time. Mr. Murphy stated the plume is smaller in size and the general trend is downward. There are pumping wells that have been shut off.

Mr. Sigler asked where the contamination came from in the first place. Mr. Murphy said it was from labs on campus at Cornell and this type of disposal was legal at the time and prior to knowing the contamination involved. He and his colleagues are doing their best to work towards a positive solution.

Mr. McKenna inquired as to which well was shut down. Mr. Murphy stated it was EW6 (Extraction Well) and is located on the northwest end of the Airport property.

Ms. Borgella pointed out that there are reports available on the website that contains maps showing all the plumes and additional information.

Ms. Kiefer was interested in the tritium levels as shown in Appendix C and stated tritium is biologically active. Mr. Murphy stated tritium is still being monitored in both ground water and surface water on-site. He will provide Ms. Kiefer with data tables and trend lines. In the ground-water monitoring locations the tritium is decreasing to stable and on surface water it was below background at the analytical laboratory. Ms. Kiefer requested a copy of the table in larger print.

Ms. Kiefer commented that the hydrology in the area located at the top of the map is complicated due to the northward direction and the area was never satisfactorily analyzed. Mr. Murphy is confident that they have reviewed the up gradients.