ITHACA, N.Y. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it will remove lead contaminated soil this month at the Ithaca Falls.

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The announcement follows EPA’s collection of samples from the area in May and July. “Because the samples showed elevated levels of lead in the soil, the area was barricaded and signs were installed in June to prevent public access,” a news release from the EPA said.

EPA official Michael Basile says in an interview that members of the public should “definitely not” be concerned about their health or that of their children if they went swimming in the area before it was suddenly closed by the city this summer.

The site underwent extensive cleaning by the EPA in the mid-2000’s related to pollution from the now-defunct Ithaca Gun Company, which manufactured firearms and munitions. Basile characterized those previous EPA clean-up efforts  as extensive, and said that the federal agency was again moving swiftly and comprehensively in response to the new sign of contamination.

“We spent two solid years there removing 6,000 tons of lead-contaminated soil and we spent almost $5 million,” Basile said. “There was never anything anyone should have been nervous about in terms of swimming or walking in that area.”

Now that there’s new signs of contamination, Basile said, “We made the decision to put the sign up to prevent public access. We did due diligence, as did the city.”

The new removal efforts are expected to last 4-6 weeks and cost about $400,000, Basile said.

“When we discovered the problem, we reacted quickly,” he said. “In 4-6 weeks it’s going to be gone.”

Basile added that the second removal of the small amount of contamination would make the Ithaca Falls “even more of a pristine area.”

“This is such a small area where found the contamination; this is nothing anyone should be worried about from when they were swimming there,” he said.

A news release says that the EPA “will remove approximately 200 cubic yards of loose stone and lead contaminated soil from a quarter of an acre on a steep slope and walkway in the Falls Creek Gorge … The material will be removed and disposed of at a facility licensed to accept the waste. The air will be monitored during the project to protect workers and the public.”

It’s not entirely clear what caused the new contamination in the soil, Basile said, though he added that the area was tested “because of development that’s going on in that Fall Creek Gorge area.”

An EPA news release noted that “lead is a toxic metal that can cause damage to a child’s ability to learn and a range of health damage in adults.

“Lead exposure can have serious, long-term health consequences in adults and children. Even at low levels, lead in children can cause I.Q. deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity and other behavioral problems,”  said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck in the news release.

We’ll be posting updates on this breaking news

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.