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Hazardous land used during Atomic Age has green future

Published Dec. 17, 2019
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Exterior view of National Lead Industries in Colonie, New York. May 3, 1982 (Paul D. Kniskern Sr./Times Union Archive).

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The FUSRAP Colonie project under active construction in 2004.

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The FUSRAP Colonie project under active construction in 2005.

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The former FUSRAP property today in Colonie, New York.

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The former FUSRAP property today in Colonie, New York.

In 1945, following the United States’ detonation of two atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, World War II ended and the Atomic Age began.

Research on the uses of atomic power also started and the forming of the United States’ Atomic Energy Commission was created to foster this.

As part of its work, the commission licensed National Lead Industries in Colonie, New York to manufacture some items for them using thorium, uranium, and depleted uranium.

As a result of this production, the land and water on an around the site became contaminated.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District has cleaned up the property and the land is now being eyed as a possible location for a green solar power site.

“This is a milestone project because it is the 100th legacy site to be cleaned up and added to the Department of Energy’s Legacy Management Program,” said Jim Moore, project manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District.

“It’s the second legacy project that the Army Corps’ New York District has cleaned up and transferred to the DOE. This reflects the sustained progress by the DOE in partnership with the Army Corps in managing the responsibilities associated with the environmental waste legacy of World War II and the Cold War Era.”

The National Lead Industries was a company situated on approximately 11-acres of land in the Town of Colonie in Albany County, New York.

Active from 1937-1984, the company manufactured a number of items including ones for the AEC from the 1950’s through 1984. Thorium, uranium, and depleted uranium were used to manufacture shielding components, aircraft counterweights, experimental nuclear reactors and artillery projectiles.

This production resulted in residual radiological contamination of the site’s land and groundwater.  Neighboring properties were also impacted by contaminated dust particles from the burning of depleted uranium chips. This occurred before the United States had environmental laws enacted.

In 1984, the New York State Supreme Court closed the company due to environmental concerns, and subsequently ownership of the site was transferred to DOE. 

At the time, DOE oversaw the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program and began cleaning up what was named the Colonie FUSRAP Site, which included demolishing all of the site’s buildings.

The FUSRAP was established by the U.S. federal government in 1974 to clean up low-level radioactive contamination from the nation’s early atomic research program.

In 1997, the U.S. Congress transferred responsibility of the FUSRAP mission to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the agency continued the cleanup responsibility.

The Army Corps excavated and disposed of 135,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with radionuclides, metals, and volatile organic compounds. Approximately, two feet of clean soil was placed over these affected areas.

A groundwater monitoring program was also put in place to measure the progress in using natural processes to address contaminants in groundwater.

The site and nearby residential and commercial properties were also investigated for contaminated dust particles.

This contaminated land is in an urban area, near residences and businesses. Throughout the cleanup process, the Army Corps ensured that nearby residents and business owners were well informed and kept from the danger during the cleanup.

This was carried out through the use of dust suppression efforts during active excavations and air monitoring at the excavation locations and along the perimeter of the property.

Moore said that the most common concern of the community was the safety of the land.

“The land is safe and suitable for reuse. Repeated investigations of the site and surrounding properties show that all of the land has been remediated to appropriate standards and the New York State Department of Health concurs.”

This fall, the Army Corps transferred the completed project to the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management that strives to identify beneficial reuse opportunities for its sites. The plan for Colonie is to turn it into a green solar power site.

Moore said, “This project was my first assignment when I joined the Army Corps in 2001 and it’s great to see our mission being accomplished. A lot of very talented people worked very hard to accomplish this task and every one of them deserve recognition.  I’m proud to be part of this success story. Most importantly, the land is safe once again and will serve its community in a beneficial capacity.”

From nuclear power to solar power. The land served a purpose that was important to the Nation in the past and it will continue to in the future.