ITHACA, NY – On Friday morning, the City of Ithaca will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to re-open the Lake Street Bridge and give Ithacans a chance to walk the nearby trail to see Ithaca Falls. While the city is celebrating the finished project, a local environmental activist is raising new concerns about contamination near the falls.

Last year, it was revealed that the area around Ithaca falls had been re-contaminated by lead and arsenic from the Ithaca Gun factory, which used to manufacture firearms and ammunition nearby. The EPA had initially cleaned up the area in 2004.

Walter Hang, of Ithaca-based environmental watchdog group Toxics Targeting first brought the contamination issue to the public’s attentions. Now he is saying that the EPA’s second cleanup job at the site was inadequate and the area is being re-contaminated yet again.

“The ‘Island’ remains extensively contaminated with thousands of lead shotgun pellets as well as coal clinker and ash that are visible to the naked eye.  I found lead pellets strewn over a large area that adjoins the edge of the Gorge cliff as well as the Ithaca Gun tailrace,” Hang wrote in an email. “Coal clinker, what appears to remnants of shotgun shells, including wadding, and other debris have evidently fallen into the Gorge area.  As a result, it is very likely that the Gorge Trail area has been extensively recontaminated. Again.”

Hang is asking for immediate action from the EPA to restrict public access to the area and improve signage to make the contamination risk clear, and to finally remediate the area such that contamination won’t be an issue in the future.

“Ithaca Falls is frequented by teenagers who need to be protected from youthful indiscretions, foreigners who may not be able to read English and very young children who cannot read at all,” Hang wrote.

When Hang brought up the re-contamination issue in 2015, both city and EPA officials argued that the potential health risks to the public were insignificant, due to the limited contamination area and the fact that it is blocked off.

According to Cornell Professor Richard Canfield, a lead expert, told The Ithaca Voice that the lead does pose a risk, but the fact that “The Island” was fenced off should have prevented the most at-risk group — young children — from being exposed. People who swam in or near the falls had no reason to be concerned, he said.

(Featured photo courtesy of Toxics Targeting)

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.