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Letter to EPA regarding high lead levels at Ithaca Falls

September 13, 2015

Via Electronic Transmission

Honorable Judith A. Enck
Region 2 Coordinator
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
90 Broadway
New York, NY 10007-1866


Thank you very much for the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) commitment to remove approximately 200 cubic yards of soil and debris from the Ithaca Falls gorge containing up to 30,600 mg/kg or parts per million (ppm) of lead. That concentration is more than 76 times the national public health lead protection standard of 400 ppm.

Ithaca Falls is one Ithaca's most popular natural and tourist attractions. I have repeatedly expressed grave concerns that thousands of visitors to the site, particularly young children, were exposed to hazardous lead levels. I request that the public be immediately alerted to the problem just confirmed by EPA's analytical results and offered free lead testing.

See PDF page 24: and

I write today because lead pollution is only part and parcel of the public health and environmental hazards posed by Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun. It has been more than 15 years since I first reported extraordinarily high lead levels at that site. Yet those problems still persist. Please allow me to reiterate my earlier requests that EPA comprehensively remediate the area without further delay by including the site in the National Priority List (NPL) for Federal Superfund clean up.

On-Going Failure to Clean up Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun

In July 2000, I discovered millions of lead shotgun pellets dumped on the portion of the Ithaca Gun site known as the "Island." I brought the matter to public attention and worked with Assemblyman Martin Luster and his chief of staff, Barbara Lifton, to refer clean up of the problem to EPA.


EPA documented that Ithaca Falls and Ithaca Gun were extensively polluted by heavy metals, radioactive elements and toxic chemicals. I worked closely with EPA staff as your agency completed a large-scale soil removal action in 2004. However, I and many others were later dismayed to discover that EPA failed to remove all of the lead pollution from the site and left the remaining remediation of Ithaca Gun to responsible parties, the City of Ithaca and New York Sate.


The City of Ithaca recently removed lead-contaminated materials and coal slag at the "Island" using heavy earth-moving equipment instead of the sophisticated vacuum technology and air pollution filters employed by EPA. As a result, the clean up has clearly been botched.

First, the City's removal efforts on the "Island" resulted in lead-contaminated debris and coal slag falling into the adjoining area of the gorge that EPA rigorously cleaned up between 2001 and 2004. That is confirmed by visual identification of slag and debris in the gorge as well as EPA's analytical results. Moreover, contamination on the steep south gorge wall will likely continue to rain down into the gorge in years to come and pose an on-going pollution hazard unless it is removed.

Second, I visited the "Island" on 8/27/15 and documented numerous lead shotgun pellets exactly where I found them in 2000 and again in 2006. This shocking discovery is simply unacceptable.

It is imperative that the City's inadequate clean up be rectified. After too many failed remedial efforts to count, I believe EPA must clean up Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun without further delay to protect public health and the environment. I can envision no other way to resolve this problem once and for all.

Documentation of Additional Widespread Toxic Hazards Involving Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun

In addition to massive lead pollution hazards at Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun, I recently reviewed documentation that toxic pollution has migrated from the Ithaca Gun site into the residential area located immediately to the west. I provide for your review analytical findings revealing high-level groundwater and soil vapor pollution problems involving Ithaca Fall/Ithaca Gun.

Extensive toxic soil vapor was documented in the residential neighborhood immediately west of the Ithaca Gun site in 2013.

The report notes : "the overall groundwater flow direction in the overburden beneath the study area was generally to the west-southwest based on the November 4, 2013 gauging data (Figure 6)."

Please note that the full-scope of this contamination problem has not been determined. The highest soil vapor contamination level was identified at the monitoring point furthest west of Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun. It is beyond dispute that toxic pollution extends beyond the report's study area.


Identification of a total of 22 toxic chemicals in soil vapor, including cancer-causing agents such as benzene, trichloroethene, tetrachloroethene and methylene chloride, is a major public health concern given that these contaminants can intrude into homes, schools and commercial buildings.

A soil vapor intrusion investigation was conducted in 2014, but a majority of homes in the study area reportedly did not participate. Only one home reportedly was equipped with a system to mitigate toxic soil vapor intrusion threats. A nearby elementary school was not investigated.


Given the presence of multiple cancer-causing agents in soil vapor throughout this area, I request that EPA immediately equip all homes and other structures threatened by soil vapor intrusion with sub-slab depressurization mitigation systems at no expense to property owners.

2012 Vinyl Chloride Monitoring Data Must be Publicly Released Without Further Delay

The Ithaca Gun site characterization and vapor intrusion reports referenced above reveal that important toxic chemical contamination data have been withheld from public disclosure since 2012.

"Laboratory analytical results of groundwater samples collected in 2012 (emphasis added), as part of investigations for the ERP [Environmental Restoration Program, not in the original] site, indicated presence of VOCs [volatile organic chemicals, not in the original], specifically tetrachloroethene (PCE), trichloroethene (TCE), cis 1,2 dichloroethene, and vinyl chloride (emphasis added), at monitoring wells hydraulically down-gradient from the BCP [Brownfield Clean up Program, not in the original] site at concentrations exceeding respective NYSDEC [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] groundwater standards. The ERP investigations were limited to areas east of Lake Street."

See PDF page four:

I have been unable to obtain these results, but the information was likely referenced in a presentation that I attended on 5/6/13. No specific compounds were disclosed at that time.


The reported presence at Ithaca Gun of vinyl chloride, a potent human cancer-causing agent, and other toxic chemicals at concentrations exceeding groundwater standards is extremely disconcerting. I request that you require this crucial information to be immediately released.

Please note the groundwater plume delineation in the 5/6/13 presentation does not comport with the 'west-southwest" flow pattern documented by the more extensive site characterization study. That analysis fails, however, to define the end-points of the impacted area. As a result, additional investigation of this problem should be conducted west-southwest as well as due west of Ithaca Gun in order to determine the entire area threatened by groundwater and soil vapor hazards.

Please Consider Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun for Inclusion in the NPL for Superfund Clean up

In conclusion, after a seemingly endless 15-year delay in the comprehensive clean up of Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun and for all the technical reasons summarized herein, I strongly reiterate my earlier request that EPA consider this site for nomination to the NPL for federal Superfund clean up.

Given the repeated failures of the City of Ithaca, New York State and various responsible parties to eliminate the toxic problems at Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun, I request that EPA complete the job it began circa 2004 to remove all the site's pollution sources. This should include an area immediately to the west of the former factory building where the City of Ithaca failed to remove extremely high-level lead and only covered the contamination with a layer of dirt.

Please note that the detailed information referenced herein was not available when an Integrated Assessment Report conducted for EPA in 2002 determined that Ithaca Falls/Ithaca Gun did not warrant inclusion in the NPL for Federal Superfund clean up. I believe a new NPL Assessment must be undertaken to incorporate those additional data.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can answer any questions that you might have about this matter. I would be happy to meet with you and your staff if appropriate.

Thank you very much for your consideration and for your continuing public service.

Very respectfully yours,

Walter Hang

cc: Honorable Cynthia Brock
Honorable Richard DePaolo
Honorable Barbara S. Lifton
Honorable Svante Myrick
Honorable Members of the Ithaca Common Council
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Honorable Marc Gerstman
Kenneth and Regina Deschere
Lisa Sanfilippo and Charles Izzo