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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 29, 2010

Army corps to test wells, Diamente asks for soil tests, too

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The voice of a concerned mother has been heard.

After Christina Diamente spoke out about her concerns that the playing fields at Guilderland High School could be contaminated with toxins from an old Army depot, the Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to test the school wells used to water the athletic fields.

Samples were taken Tuesday, according to Neil Sanders, assistant superintendent for business for the Guilderland school district.

Gregory Goepfert, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, called The Enterprise last week to say the testing would be done at a cost of about $1,000. “That will help our efforts when we go to close the site,” he said.

The high school uses a series of four wells, he said, each of which draws its water from the same source. The sampling is being done by Parsons Engineering Science, Inc., he said.

“Thank you all very much for calling the Army,” Diamente told the nine school board members on Tuesday night. “Thank God the Army did the right thing.”

She had addressed the board at its last meeting, on April 13, expressing concerns about her daughter who runs on the school’s track team. “They are literally eating the dirt,” she said of student athletes.

On Tuesday, she told the board members, “I’m back to ask you to ask that they test the soil….If we don’t test, we don’t know. The dirt is just as important as the water.”

She concluded, “This is our backyard. These are our kids…All we have to do is ask.”

The school property borders the Northeastern Industrial Park, which was once the site of an Army depot. The depot was set up in 1941 as a storage center for the military during World War II. The Army diverted the Black Creek into two halves and sent waste into the creek or buried it on site. The Black Creek feeds the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland’s major source of drinking water.

Some of the debris left by the Army is hazardous. When the school district built a bus facility near the high school in 2002, the construction work unearthed some debris. The Army Corps of Engineers paid about half a million dollars to clean it up. The district had purchased, for one dollar, about seven acres from the industrial park for the bus-facility project.

When analyzing work to be done, the Army classifies sites that it considers a risk to human health as areas of concern — the local depot has nine.

One of them, designated as Area Of Concern 3, is a burn pit close to the high school property. An underground plume of contaminants from this site was found to be polluting groundwater.

The Army Corps of Engineers began cleanup of the burn pit area in 2003. (For a more detailed history of the AOC 3 cleanup and of the cleanup at the bus facility, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for April 22, 2010.)

Four questions

Diamente has posed a series of four questions to the school board and administrators. The district hired a consultant to find the answers; Sanders wrote Diamente on April 26 with the results.

In addition to asking about the water being tested, she also asked if the athletic fields, lawns, and perimeter had been tested. Sanders wrote, “A post remedial excavation endpoint sampling was conducted of the school property and Area of Concern 3 during the emergency removal action. A Human Health Risk Assessment of AOC 3 and the school property soil found no unacceptable health risk.”

Diamente also wanted to know if the school district had asked for removal of a groundwater plume from AOC 3, heading in the direction of school property.

Sanders replied, “The school district will continue to rely on the good faith scientific studies of the Army Corps, the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the New York State Health Department to inform the school district of human health risks related to the former Schenectady Army Depot.”

Finally, Diamente asked if the school district had requested testing the sediments of the Watervliet Reservoir.

“The reservoir is not Guilderland School district property,” Sanders wrote. “As a result, the school district does not have the authority to require sampling of the reservoir sediments. As a public water supply, the Watervliet Reservoir is required to be regularly tested for public water drinking standards by each municipal user of the water. Annual water quality summary reports are available from the municipalities.”

Sanders concluded, AOC 3 has been investigated, remediated and groundwater continues to be monitored. Groundwater concentrations of chemicals related to AOC 3 have decreased to levels slightly above the NYSDEC drinking water standards. Please note that this water is only fused for irrigation purposes and not human consumption.”

Sanders also referenced the Human Health Risk Assessment for AOC 3 that included school district property and found “no unacceptable health risks are present in the soil.”

Diamente told The Enterprise she will continue to pursue the topic. She started her investigation as a student in Maia Boswell-Penc’s graduate course on environmental justice at the University at Albany.

“I have a child who is directly affected,” she said. “I have a moral responsibility to follow through.”

Diamente wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, urging Guilderland residents to attend a May 6 meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board.

“I think the town should be investigating this,” she said. “I’m hopeful the school board will choose to do the right thing and test the soil. I’m gong to hope and literally pray that they choose to do the right thing.”

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