By: Duane Craig
Regardless of what Watertown, N.Y. residents might want, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation says it won’t be doing any more environmental testing at the former New York Air Brake site, according to this article.
Besides residents, public officials are also concerned about high cancer rates and other illnesses that affect the north side of that community. Of increasing concern, is the possibility of vapor intrusion into nearby homes from high levels of chemicals that have made their way into the soils beneath the homes. DEC says it won’t be monitoring any indoor air quality in the homes, however monitoring does continue at the site every year.
Reassurances from the DEC largely fell on deaf ears at a recent neighborhood meeting that was also attended by environmental activist Erin Brockovich. One resident who orchestrated the meeting has been disabled by a neurological disease and another resident who attended claimed he remembers dumping chemicals from the facility’s operations.
Those operations started in 1876 when Eames Vacuum Brake Co. was founded as a vacuum break manufacturer. It was making a new kind of pneumatic brake for railroads operating in the area, according to this historical account. In 1919 the company had 7,000 employees making horse-drawn cannons and then during World War II it was busy making tanks and military hardware. General Signal Corp. bought the operations in 1967 and by 1980 had 2,200 employees making parts for aerospace and defense contracts, heavy machinery and farm equipment. The business’ makeup gets a little murky after that as a portion of it was purchased by a German company that eventually moved its operations to North Charleston, S.C. Other portions of the business still owned by General Signal continued to operate in the area as a foundry and maker of railroad car brakes.
General Signal admitted in 1988 that it disposed of toxic chemicals in a landfill on the site. Ten years of testing and cleanup followed, so that today, drainage from the landfill collects in a pond where the water is treated before it is released, according to this article. At one time, toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, as well as trichloroethylene, or TCE, were present in two creeks that flow nearby. People in the area wonder today how much of those materials remain in the soils and continue to migrate to adjacent lands.