The New Yorker reported the factory’s role behind the scenes with the Manhattan Project earlier this week, and according to records, the plant was once used for nuclear weapons research and development in the early 1940’s.
It was also a major source for radioactive thorium, a byproduct of rare earth metals discarded in nearby sewers for years at the site at the corner of Cooper and Irving Avenues.
This practice went on from 1947 until 1954, in cooperation with the Atomic Energy Commission.
Although it was reported that the Department of Energy notified New York City of the contamination in 1987, it took until 2014, following multiple flawed surveys, that the EPA proposed the site for the Superfund list.
So why did it take from 1954 until 2009 for the EPA to take actionable interest in the site?
Moreover, how should the city respond to the residents and business owners in the surrounding neighborhood, many of whom were most likely unaware of their potential exposure to the harmful radiation?
Dangerous radiation levels threaten nearby residents and workers with heightened risk of lung, pancreatic and bone cancers, as well as liver damage – common issues connected to exposure to radioactive thorium, according to EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck.
And with PS/IS 384 located only a block away from the site and leaking radioactive gas from a hole in an unused storage area for the school for who knows how long, the lack of public outreach, health screening and treatment becomes especially pronounced.
While the agency has not yet determined exactly how it will spend Superfund dollars on the site, one thing is clear: the focus should go beyond site’s decontamination. The people of Ridgewood and Bushwick deserve to know in explicit detail exactly what the possible consequences of this long-term radiation problem could be.
At the very least, they deserve free access to full medical screening and any treatments that they may be in need of resulting from exposure.