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Public Meetings on South Hill Industrial Pollution

Public Information Sessions with NYSDEC, NYSDOH, EPT/ESC/WSP and others

 2004  -  2005  -  2006  -  2007  -  2008  -  2009 -  2010

The South Hill neighborhoods have been addressing these toxins issues for over SIX years now. To help navigate this section more easily, there are links (above) to take you to the section for each of those years.


As discussed in the Morse/EPT pages, in late May 2004, Walter Hang sounded the alarm about the failure of the Emerson "pump-and-treat" system to significantly lower the levels of toxins found on the Emerson site. Residents were outraged and relayed their concerns to local, state, and federal officials. Assemblywoman Barbara S. Lifton was the first to respond and worked with her staff to organize the first Public Meeting to discuss these matters on August 4, 2004.

The days before this meeting saw a flurry of letters and documents exchanged and released. More details are here.

The Public Meeting was fragmented both in terms of time and location - there were two sessions: one at the Holiday Inn in the afternoon and another one there in the evening. An "alternate" meeting with various State officials was also held in the Borg Warner Room of the Public Library in the afternoon. Emerson released their plan to test 32 homes very close to the plant. Homeowners in other neighborhoods were not pleased, but held out hope that the State agencies reviewing the plans would force expansion of the area. The Ithaca Journal report on the meetings is here.


The next Public Meeting was held on March 3, 2005, after the DEC had issued this Letter from their"Site Control Section" to EPT, with notification of the plant site's reclassification from 4 to 2 (Significant Hazard to Environment). Phase I of the indoor air tests had resulted in the (attempted) mitigation of one home on South Hill Terrace, and Phase II of the indoor air tests had begun. These are the DEC-prepared slides shown at the public meeting, reviewing late 2004 and early 2005 activities.

On April 21, 2005, a "Public Hearing on Vaporization of Contamination from Soil and Groundwater into Indoor Air" was conducted by members of the NYS Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation at the Ithaca Town Hall. Testimony was received from Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson, NYSDEC Deputy Commissioner Carl Johnson, NYSDOH Director G. Anders Carlson,, Cornell Professors Tammo Steenhuis, Lawrence Cathles and James Gillett, SUNY-Binghamton Professor James Dix, Broome Community College Professor Bruce Oldfield, Toxics Targeting President Walter Hang, Environmental Attorney Ken Kamlet, IBM Employee James Little, and several Ithaca area residents who have been involved in the local pollution remediation efforts. The Ithaca Hearing Summary is here. The Committee's final report (released February 1, 2006) is here.

Ithaca Journal articles about the hearing are here and here. An Editorial is here.

On May 4, 2005, Ithaca's Common Council passed a resolution calling for full disclosure (by Emerson and Borg Warner) of all toxic substances known to have been used in the plant, and of all spills of such substances. For the text of the Resolution, see pages 26 and 27 of the Council Minutes. The Ithaca Journal article on the meeting is here.

A Public Meeting was held June 22, 2005 to discuss the results from the first Phase II indoor air tests and to announce the expansion of the test area for Phase III, adding homes north of Hillview Place along both sides of Turner Place, both sides of South Hill Terrace, and on the "uphill" portion of the 100-block of East Spencer Street. The Ithaca Journal's site has both preview and wrap-up articles.


Cornell BEE/EAS 471 Class Releases Report on South Hill TCE Contamination

Dated June 15, 2006, and a product of a semester's worth of effort, the "Analysis of TCE Contamination - South Hill, Ithaca, NY" is subtitled "A report to the citizens of South Hill by the students in BEE/EAS471 with input from Cornell faculty and citizens of Ithaca."  It has 101 pages with site history (much of the same text and maps that appear in this site's "History" section), a toxicological profile for TCE, Economic Analysis of the possible "solutions" to the problems, Geology, Hydrology, Sampling methods, Subsurface Transport of TCE, Mechanisms of TCE Transport at South Hill, Executive Summary and Suggestions, Glossary of Terms, GIS Maps, and References.  We are sincerely grateful to the faculty and students from the Cornell Departments of Biological and Environmental Engineering (BEE) and of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) for their time, effort, resources and wisdom.  Special thanks go to Professors Larry Cathles, Tammo Steenhuis, Larry Brown, and Jim Gillett for their continuing enthusiasm and willingness to share their considerable knowledge.   A preliminary version of this report was presented at a public meeting in City Hall on May 23rd. The Agenda (with contact names and suggested references) and Executive Summary are here.

Erin Brockovich Speaks on Environment, Activism - June 1, 2006 at GIAC

Erin Brockovich spoke to a packed gym at GIAC on June 1, with representatives of some of the law firms she works with. She spoke about our need to keep learning, keep talking to each other, keep asking for more from the agencies and responsible parties, and to work with the lawyers and experts who know how to keep our fight alive and on track.  The Ithaca Journal and the Ithaca Community News have coverage on-line.  


TCE Activist-Author Lenny Siegel Speaks in Ithaca August 1, 2007

Lenny Siegel, a nationally-known TCE activist and author from Mountain View, CA was in Ithaca August 1st, giving interviews, taking tours of the affected neighborhoods, and speaking to a group of local residents.  He gave a general background on the industrial solvent TCE (trichloroethene), soil vapor intrusion, how it occurs, and the national efforts to reduce the levels of TCE at which mitigation and remediation.  He also spoke about the Toxic Chemical Exposure Reduction Act (TCE Reduction Act)
introduced by NY Senator Clinton and others on August 1.  The bill attempted to accelerate the establishment of lever TCE standards by the EPA. Attempts and recommendations to lower the national standard have been frustrated by political pressure from the current administration, particularly the Department of Defense which faces huge problems with TCE under and surrounding military bases throughout the country.

Lenny Siegel has been Executive Director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight (see their website, http://www.cpeo.org) since 1994. He is one of the environmental movement's leading experts on both military facility contamination and the vapor intrusion pathway, and for his organization he runs three Internet newsgroups: the Military Environmental Forum, the Brownfields Internet Forum, and the Installation Reuse Forum.

Siegel, who has given testimony before committees of the U.S. Congress and Senate, is a member of several advisory committees, including the Interstate Technology & Regulatory Council's work teams on Vapor Intrusion and Perchlorate, (until recently) the National Research Council Committee on Army Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel Demilitarization, and the Moffett Field (former Moffett Naval Air Station) Restoration Advisory Board.

ICSD, State Agencies Hold Meeting to Discuss Testing at Elementary School

A public meeting was held at South Hill Elementary School on December 5, 2007 for parents, staff and concerned neighbors to hear from ICSD, State Education Department, NYSDEC and NYSDEC officials about the state's determination that the tests performed thus far in and around the school (sub-slab, crawlspace, and soil vapor tests on the grounds) had convinced them that indoor air testing was not needed. Paul Mintz, representing ICSD suggested that paying for the indoor air tests would require cutting other programs, while DEC and DOH representatives said their judgment was that indoor air tests simply weren't needed. Parents and staff were NOT convinced - how so much testing could have been performed WITHOUT testing the areas where the students and staff actually spend their time is indeed mysterious. It would appear that ICSD has an attitude of "what we don't know won't hurt us...". Krisy Gashler's summary of the meeting is here.

NYSDEC and NYSDOH Release "Fact Sheet", Dec. 13 Public Meeting POSTPONED to Jan. 24

A four-page Fact Sheet prepared by NYSDEC was mailed to many South Hill residents on Nov. 26.  It discusses the status of three ongoing investigations on South Hill: the Emerson Power Transmission site, the "Former Axiohm Facility" and the "NCR Sewer". (It does not discuss the continuing concerns about the toxins found at the South Hill Elementary School.)

The document mentions various reports that are due in early December - we hope these will be available for review shortly after release - and announces an "Availability Session/Public Meeting" scheduled for the Ithaca Town Hall on Thursday, December 13. The availability session with be held from 3:00 - 5:00 PM; the public meeting is set for 7:00 - 9:00 PM.
Unfortunately, these meetings were POSTPONED due to heavy snow and bad roads.  The meetings were held on January 24, 2008.


 The Availability Session and Public Meeting convened by NYSDEC and NYSDOH, originally scheduled for December 13 2007, were held on Thursday, January 24 2008 in the Ithaca Town Hall. The sessions were well-attended and there was a lot of give-and-take discussion during both events. By far the most troubling issue is the huge doubt that exists about the validity of the "recent" (November 2007) tests, which show "unexpectedly" high values of TCE in the "ambient air" and within the homes where the indoor air was tested. As these tests were performed in the usual manner by the usual lab, the striking contrast to prior readings is as-yet unexplained. The "slide show" prepared and presented by the DEC is here.  At the end of February, the DEC released a "summary map" showing the various test phase properties and totals of the properties by status.

Questions raised about arranging for air testing in a home not scheduled for testing by EPT or the DEC have been answered with information provided by Karen Cahill of the DEC.

The DEC also laid out their intended timetable of events over the next six months, with some steps toward actual remediation of the EPT site starting in July 2008. The Ithaca Journal has some good articles on the meeting and reactions to it:
Thursday, Jan 24 (Pre-meeting story on test results)
Friday, Jan 25
Saturday, Jan 26
Tuesday, Jan 29 (Editorial)


“Public Meeting” – March 5, 2009, Ithaca Town Hall
This was convened by the NYSDEC and NYSDOH to present information on the Proposed Amendment to the 1994 “Record of Decision” on the remediation of the Emerson site.

This meeting was notable for a variety of things, including:

  • The disclosure of the DEC’s conclusion that the toxins in the South Hill neighborhoods are coming more from the City sewers than from the Fire Water Reservoir on the Emerson site, as they had assumed since the toxins were revealed to the public in 1987.

  • DEC approval of an “enhanced pump-and-treat” system to continue trying to remediate the Fire Water Reservoir.  Though the system which has been in place since the early 1990s has NOT worked, they believe that the enhancements will make a difference in how much TCE is removed from the water.

  • DEC approval of a “remediation” plan which essentially closes up and abandons toxin-contaminated buildings on the Emerson site, restricting access to them, but NOT removing the toxins from within or underneath them.

  • DEC approval of a scheme to use In-Situ Chemical Oxidation (ISCO) to address groundwater around the “Former Department 507 Degreaser” facility, followed by “Monitored Natural Attenuation” (MNA): a “watch, wait, and see” approach to determine whether the toxins will dissipate on their own.

  • Areas covered with a “weathered petroleum product” will be excavated and removed, then covered with protective caps of asphalt.

  • Contaminated soils will be capped in place with asphalt to minimize toxin run-off.  Access to and use of various areas will be restricted, to avoid disturbing the encapsulated contaminants.

  • Basements of other on-site buildings will be sealed and caulked to minimize vapor intrusion, where it is occurring.

Though the City sewers along Turner Place and South Cayuga Street are identified as the conduits through which the Emerson site’s toxins reach neighborhood homes, there is no discussion in the Proposed Amendment of steps that should be taken to remediate the neighborhoods.

The Roles of Sewer Lines
Sewer lines and the trenches into which they were installed have become a significant factor in the expansion of the areas in which homes are tested for vapor intrusion.  Borg Warner hired Roux Associates, an environmental consulting firm, to examine the results of soil vapor tests along sewer lines running from the old NCR/Axiohm plant.  These run down South Aurora Street and down Columbia Street before joining the Turner Place sewers at the corner of Turner Place and Columbia Street.  Roux also examined the results of tests performed near sewers near the Therm plant.  By identifying the toxin mixtures nearest the various plants by their relative concentrations of toxins, which they consider “soil vapor signatures”, they conclude that the sewer running down Columbia Street contains toxins from the NCR/Axiohm and Therm sites, as well toxins from the old Morse facility.

As a result, Emerson and Borg Warner have declined to test or mitigate the areas downhill from these sewers, specifically including the “Phase VI” test area bounded by Columbia, South Aurora, and Prospect Streets and Turner Place.  The State has started testing in this area and on the East side of South Aurora Street as well.  We know of homes on Columbia Street which have been tested by the DEC and have toxins levels high enough to warrant the installation of mitigation systems.

As for how much further the test areas will be expanded, Susan Shearer of the NYSDOH answered a question at the Public Meeting, “We follow wherever the data takes us and we haven’t stopped yet.”

The threats to the health of the neighborhoods are not limited to TCE.  The “alphabet soup” noxious cocktail from the neighboring sites includes acetone, benzene, Freon, and toluene, as well as the various chlorinated solvents and their daughter products.


“Public Meeting” – July 17, 2010, Ithaca Town Hall
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) conducted the Public Meeting required for discussion of the Proposed Remedial Action Plan (PRAP) for the sewers downhill from the Emerson plant.  The DEC provided us with a PDF copy of the "slides" which provide an overview of the discussion. No one is happy with the proposed remedy, but it is felt that any more substantial (and costly, disruptive) steps would be"technically impractical". As the remedy and the expected "Record of Decision" are considered the final staps in the cleanup, there was discussion about how little measurement of the results of the effort is proposed.

The 66 neighborhood homes which have mitigation systems or have been offered such systems would keep them running for protection. No in-home testing of these or any other nearby homes is required or expected.  This decision applies only to the homes in "Operable Unit 3" - corresponding to Phases 1 -5 of the initial home-testing.  Further work is expected in Phases 6 and 7, extending from lower Columbia Street to Husdon Street.  Phase 7 will probably be expanded.

A letter of comments submitted is here. The supporting figures are here.

The “good news” is that some of the hard-working employees of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have managed to overcome the obstacles of severe budget cuts (results of Albany dysfunction and economic disaster) to finally release a Proposed Remedial Action Plan (PRAP) for the sewers downhill from the Emerson plant.  The PRAP specifies removal and replacement of about 300 feet of sanitary sewers along East Spencer Street, starting at the intersection with Turner Place.  Vented pipe would be installed along with new sewer line into the sewer trench, to allow any soil vapors to escape.

That’s the only “Remedial” action specified in the PRAP.  The mitigation systems already in place would remain in operation.  The proposed action will seriously disrupt the residents of East Spencer Street, as well as anyone who normally travels this street.  This area contains homes which had high test levels of TCE indoors, but there are dozens of homes with high test levels that are relatively distant from this 300-foot section of street.



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