EPA: Chemicals put neighbors at risk

GLOVERSVILLE – Hazardous chemicals found at the site of Tradition Leather on West 11th Avenue could have put neighbors and a nearby school at risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency, which finished removing the hazardous chemicals this summer, said if the chemicals found near the tannery building had mixed together, they would have created a dangerous gas.

The Tradition Leather tannery at 41 W. Eleventh Ave. was vacated in 2010, the EPA says.

The city Fire Department searched the Tradition Leather site June 4 but released no information about the incident.

EPA spokeswoman Larisa Romanowski said the Fire Department gave its findings to the EPA on June 5 for review.

The EPA and its emergency-response contractor went to the site June 6 and identified hazardous and unknown substances that posed a threat to the environment.

“The Fire Department executed the search warrant based on concerns that several drums of chemicals were being stored inside an unsecured building where several incidents of vandalism had occurred,” Romanowski said. “City, state and federal agencies had also been aware of potential environmental concerns at the site after Tradition Leather was fined $15,000 by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2005 for causing a release of chemicals in the Cayadutta Creek.”

Substances at the site included hydrogen peroxide, ferric chloride and sulfuric acid. These materials were contained in several hundred 55-gallon and 40-gallon drums and 132-gallon totes along with several hundred other smaller containers of unknown content, the EPA says.

Of particular concern, Romanowski said, were 8,000 pounds of hydrogen sulfide powder intermingled with incompatible hydrogen peroxide, which, if mixed, would react to produce hydrogen sulfide, a highly flammable and toxic gas. The release of hydrogen sulfide would threaten the area around the leather plant, including Kingsborough Elementary School, which is across the street from the site.

“The EPA determined that an immediate action was required to secure and stabilize the site to prevent a fire/explosion and a release of hazardous substances resulting in a threat to public health or the environment,” Romanowski said.

She said the emergency action included taking security measures, separating incompatible hazardous chemicals, stabilizing leaking containers, inventorying materials in containers, collecting and analyzing samples to determine waste characteristics, and disposing of containers and hazardous chemicals off-site at an EPA- approved disposal facility.

Romanowski said the removal was conducted and paid for by EPA.

The cost of the cleanup was $330,000, and the EPA continues to identify parties responsible for the contamination at the site so the agency can seek cost reimbursement, she said.

The EPA finished removing the hazardous chemicals Aug. 15.

“As a result of the cleanup, all hazardous substances have been removed from the site so the immediate threats to human health and the environment have been addressed,” Romanowski said. “In the future, additional investigations will be conducted to take a closer look at the building and grounds, as well as the creek, to determine if there are other environmental issues that will need to be addressed.”

At the time of the search, Fire Chief Beth Whitman-Putnam said the department was compiling information and giving it to the city attorney. She declined further comment.

City Attorney Anthony Casale this week declined comment regarding the site.

Mayor Dayton King said the city is looking out for the health and safety of its residents.

“We always want to make sure that the public’s safety is covered,” King said. “We are doing everything we can to work with the federal agencies to make sure the children of Gloversville schools and the people that live in those neighborhoods are safe. I am going to follow up with those agencies, and we will do what we can as soon as we can.”

Gloversville Enlarged School District Superintendent Michael Vanyo said Wednesday the district hasn’t been contacted about any potential concerns or precautions the district should take to ensure student safety.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Vanyo said. “I would think if they were doing that, they would say something to us.”

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 spokesman David Winchell said the DEC has no involvement in the situation. However, he said, the EPA does keep the DEC informed about the status.

The tannery shut down in July 2010 after the city shut off water and sewer service to the property for failure to pay around $158,000 in outstanding water and sewer bills, said city Water Department Superintendent Christopher Satterlee.

He said those bills still haven’t been paid.

A?deed filed in the county clerk’s office lists local tannery operator Michael DeMagistris as the property owner.

DeMagistris, who was the president of Tradition Leather, was charged in August 2008 with failing to provide workers’ compensation insurance for his employees from June 16, 2007, until March 10, 2008.

The business owed thousands of dollars in back taxes but won’t have to pay them.

In 2011, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors removed four properties owned by Tradition from its 2007-11 tax-delinquency foreclosure list because, if it didn’t, the county might have been responsible for the environmental cleanup costs, a county official said.

Fulton County Treasurer Terry Blodgett said the county also took the properties off the list to prevent the municipality and school district from expecting the tax revenue in their yearly budgets. In addition, the county’s decision prevented the county from having to cover the taxes for the school and city while the county tries to recoup the delinquent tax payments.

According to records in the county treasurer’s office, the tannery owed $2,044 in taxes to the county, city and school district for its parking lot and $101,085 in taxes for its manufacturing building.

The taxes unpaid on the two parcels went back to 2007, records indicate.

Also included in the Board of Supervisors resolution were Tradition Leather properties at 34 and 30 W. 10th Ave. Those properties owed $12,417 in back taxes.

Tradition Leather spilled tanning chemicals into the Cayadutta Creek in 2005, killing thousands of fish and contaminating the waterway. The company was fined $15,000 and had to restock the creek with 3,500 trout.

DeMagistris also was the owner of the former Demi’s Leather Corp. building on Briggs Street in Johnstown. The EPA worked with DeMagistris to tear down the building because of contamination concerns.

Levi Pascher can be reached by email at [email protected].

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