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Industrial development and activity, toxin discoveries and responses


The Morse facility on South Hill expanded through its first seven decades, with the most significant and lasting development in power transmission equipment for industrial and automotive applications: drive chains, timing chains, sprockets, gears and combinations in various housings for front-wheel and four-wheel drive systems. The plant layout and functions are suggested by the "Sanborn" map shown below - a 1929 map updated to the early 1960's.

Activities included metal stamping, punching, grinding, milling, heat-treating, oil-quenching, parts washing and product assembly. Other operations started in the 1960's and 1970's included copper and cadmium plating, and wire drawing. Many of these processes require the use of "cutting oils" which must be removed from the pieces after the process. The removal steps involved a variety of solvents including mineral spirits, Freon, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, TCE, and tetrachloroethane. While TCE use was discontinued in 1977 or 1978, peak usage was reported to be about 1200 gallons per week.

"Sanborn" map of Morse Chain Site, early 1960's- for a printable version, click here


Environment awareness and concerns about carcinogenic effects of the various lubricants and solvents were not as developed in the mid-20th century as they are today. However, the Morse facility, like many other industrial and military sites across the country, became the focus of attention as neighbors reported odors, and strange colors and oil slicks in water running downhill from the plant.

Some of the problems found are documented in correspondence between Morse employees and local and State health officials. Many of these documents have been collected by Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting, Inc.

Cutting oils used in processing the metal parts were found everywhere - coating the finished parts and dripping off the pieces of scrap and shavings which were hauled in bins from the plant to recycling centers. PCBs were found in this oil, and as our knowledge of the problems with PCBs grew, so did concern about the oil runoff from the plant.

The use of chlorinated solvents as degreasing agents (to remove the oil from the metal) increased in an attempt to limit the spread of the PCB-laden oil. However, as it was learned that some of the active agents in these solvents themselves presented problems, efforts were made to reduce their use.

The volumes of metal, cutting oils, solvents, and water that moved through the plant site are large. The amounts of metal scrap and the oil it was treated with are the subject of ongoing discussions between Morse staff and County Health officials, and the solvents used and the water taken in and discharged by the plant are detailed in the 1981 application Morse filed for a discharge permit.

Water Flow Schematic, submitted by Morse Chain as part of State pollution Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) Permit Application, Sept. 30, 1981

Map submitted as part of SPDES Permit Application, showing location of Outfall Discharges. A "Google Earth" view of these locations may be viewed here. The locations are:
- uphill from the top of South Cayuga Street,
- below West Spencer Street, near the intersection of Wood and South Geneva Streets.

In 1987, TCE was found in oil that had been taken from the surface of the large fire reservoir on the plant site. Further tests disclosed the TCE was present in the reservoir water as well.

According to the "Record of Decision" issued by NYSDEC in December, 1994, these steps were taken over the next years:

February 1987: EPT notified NYSDEC of the discovery of TCE in oil skimmed off the surface of an underground fire reservoir. At this time, EPT hired Radian Corporation to prepare a preliminary environmental assessment to address TCE contamination in the fire reservoir and to investigate whether TCE had impacted groundwater.

As part of this work, the reservoir was emptied and cleaned using high pressure water and five monitoring wells were installed. Samples were collected of the groundwater from those wells, soil, surface water and sediment from Six Mile Creek, and seeps. This sampling showed local groundwater was contaminated and that the fire reservoir was likely a source.. The study also detected petroleum hydrocarbons in soil taken from the railroad ditch.

July 1987: The site was added to the New York State Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites.

July 1988: EPT signed a consent order with the NYSDEC for a remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) and remedial program at the site.

February 1990: Radian Corporation submitted the RI. This information was used to evaluate interim remedial measure (IRM) alternatives and to complete the Feasibility Study (FS).

May 1991: EPT entered into a consent order for an IRM.

August 1991: EPT finished construction of a groundwater extraction and treatment system (henceforth referred to as "pump and treat system") to operate as an IRM prior to completion of the FS.

May 1991: NYSDOH collected air samples from homes near the Morse site. Based on these samples, the NYSDOH requested and EPT agreed to install vadose zone monitoring wells to assess the potential for impacts adjacent to the site.

August 1992: The Fire Reservoir was rehabilitated and put back into service. Cracks in the concrete were patched and a liner was installed.

February 1994: EPT completed a pilot test using the Xerox Two-Phase Vacuum Extraction system, which was initiated in October 1993. Pilot test objectives included: evaluating system effectiveness for removing VOCs from the soil, dewatered bedrock, and groundwater; comparing system performance to the pump and treat system; and evaluating the benefit of supplementing or replacing the pump and treat system with two-phase vacuum extraction for remediation.

The pilot test results showed that the two-phase vacuum extraction system outperforms the pump and treat system. The two-phase vacuum extraction system removes greater quantities of groundwater, has higher VOC removal rates, and has a greater zone of influence.

June 1994: Four vadose monitoring wells were installed and will be sampled on two occasions. This investigation will be completed concurrently with the monitoring program for the remedy selected by the PRAP. Should the need for further remediation or other mitigation be identified it will be evaluated as a component of the operation and maintenance program for the site.


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