A toxic pesticide has been discovered buried behind the Town of Niagara highway garage.
Highway department employees started to notice strange odors behind the building recently and Robert Herman, the town’s highway superintendent, contacted Clark Patterson Lee, the town’s engineering firm, to perform preliminary tests on the grounds.
“It didn’t seem like a dangerous substance when it was found,” Herman said.
Preliminary soil tests showed elevated amounts of the toxic pesticide Lindane buried near the train tracks that run behind the building.
The engineering firm then contacted the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to notify them of the elevated levels of the toxin.
Gregory Sutton, a regional waste remediation engineer with the DEC, attended a town board work session Thursday night to discuss the next steps with board members.
Sutton said the area has to be tested further to determine how much of the chemical is buried behind the building.
“It didn’t look like it was widespread but the levels of Lindane or suspected Lindane that was identified are relatively high,” he said.
The DEC will now send a letter to the town notifying officials they need to investigate the contamination.
“If you decline to investigate it then the state would step in,” Sutton said.
Sutton said Lindane was commonly used in the 1940s and 1950s and that illegal dumping of chemicals was common practice during that time period, meaning it will be difficult to identify a responsible party.
“They’d just leave it to guys in barrels or drums and guys just disposed of it in every low spot in Niagara County it seems like,” Sutton said.
Sutton said if the board decides to go forward with testing without the DEC the town would pay for the work.
However, if they wait for the DEC to intervene the testing would likely be delayed until the beginning of next year because of manpower shortages at the agency, he added.
“To do a quick study it’d probably be after the first of the year,” Sutton said.
Sutton said so long as the site goes undisturbed — the chemicals have likely been there for decades — it should not be a threat to public health.
“You’ve got to breathe it, eat it, drink it or absorb it through your skin,” he said. “So as long as your not touching it, it’s not going to do anything.”
Board members discussed whether they should go forward with testing or wait for the DEC, with Deputy Supervisor Dan Sklarski saying he felt the town should go forward with testing on its own to let residents know they have the issue under control.
“They would know that the town is taking steps to find out the degree of severity of the situation and also has a plan going forward should it need to be remediated,” he said.
Board member Marc Carpenter said he feels comfortable with Sutton’s assessment that the site is not an immediate risk and would like to wait for the state to step in and handle the situation.
“I personally would like to have the DEC take care of it to be honest with you,” he said. “If we need to move forward with it obviously we have some other options.”
The board did not add any new resolutions regarding further soil testing for the town board meeting next Tuesday.
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257