Ridgewood site lands on federal Superfund list

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated land once owned by the Wolff-Alport Chemical Co. a federal Superfund site.
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Years of studies are on the horizon for a radioactive Ridgewood block that has been added to the federal Superfund cleanup program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

Judith Enck, regional administrator for the EPA, announced last week that the agency designated land near the now-defunct Wolff-Alport Chemical Co. to the federal Superfund program, an initiative designed to remediate the country’s most contaminated land and bill responsible parties for the work.

The Superfund site spans 11-25 through 11-39 Irving Ave. and includes 15-14 Cooper Ave.

Enck said the EPA will now examine how far thorium, a radioactive byproduct created when Wolff-Alport extracted and sold rare earth elements, has seeped into the Superfund site, sewers and a railroad spur behind the shuttered company.

“What has me particularly concerned is this is a site in a densely populated neighborhood, very close to where people live, where they work, where they go to school, where they send their kids to daycare,” Enck said. “We’re going to assess many different cleanup options for the site, and then before we do the actual cleanup, we will propose a plan and we will share that plan with the public.”

Enck did not expect the plan to be drafted for a couple years. She said EPA would need to do more research before deciding whether a car shop and other buildings on the contaminated land may remain standing.

Wolff-Alport processed sand from the Belgian Congo to remove and sell rare elements from 1920-54. The company disposed of hazardous and radioactive byproducts, including thorium, by dumping them in the sewer until the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission ordered it to stop in 1947. Some of the thorium may have been buried on company land, the EPA said.

The agency had previously disclosed that Wolff-Alport sold material to the government for the Manhattan Project, which ultimately produced atomic bombs during World War II.

Still, Enck said her team is diligently researching which parties the government may hold accountable for the environmental damage, such as businesses that bought a stake in Wolff-Alport.

A deli, auto body shop, ice-making facility and other small businesses that have opened since Wolff-Alport closed in 1954 were included in the 0.75-acre site. But a daycare 900 feet away and the nearby PS/IS 384 were not.

Enck said the EPA detected radioactive gas in a storage unit at PS/IS 384 and used concrete to seal it. Further tests indicated the school was safe, but Enck said EPA would continue to monitor the campus.

A 2012 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report found radiation levels in front of 11-29 Irving Ave. were deemed at least 75 times higher than on the average city block and that workers at Los Primos Auto Body Shop may encounter radiation levels above federal guidelines, Enck said.

She noted that this could put employees at risk for lung, pancreas and bone cancer as well as liver damage.

EPA has invested about $2 million to date in installing systems to mitigate health risks, such as placing concrete and steel beneath businesses and sidewalks.

Alberto Rodriguez, manager of Los Primos, previously said EPA spent about three months placing barriers beneath the car shop’s floor.

“Customers is staying out,” Rodriguez said. “The business is down — slow.”

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at

Updated 1:40 am, May 16, 2014
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