United States
                Environmental Protection
                  Solid Waste and
                  Emergency Response
    Spring 1993
& EPA     Su perf u nd  At Work
                Hazardous Waste Cleanup Efforts Nationwide
Site Description:
Light industrial site in an urban
section of Queens, New York
Site Size: One-third of an acre
Primary Contaminant:
Potential Range of Health Risks:
Exposure can cause radiation
sickness, topical burns and
respiratory disorders
Nearby Population Affected:
300,000 people within three miles
Year Listed on NPL: 1989
EPA Region: II
State: New York
Congressional District: 7
        Radium Chemical Site Cleanup Plan
           soil excavated
    Sewer system
    risk assessment
    under way
Success In Brief

EPA Actions Abate Community

Exposure to Radium Facility
  The Radium Chemical hazardous waste site in Queens, New York
was contaminated with radium, posing a grave potential threat to the
community The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used the
Superfund program to design a long-term cleanup for the site using
input from citizens and the business community. Superfund staff:
    Mobilized a quick cleanup action to remove 10,000 small
     containers of radium;
    Developed a  streamlined approach to long-term cleanup;
    Secured the site to reduce the possibility of radiation exposure
     to the local residents;
    Cooperated with the community to design a well-organized
     emergency response plan; and
    Educated local citizens about site hazards, incorporating com-
     munity concerns into the cleanup process.
  The Radium Chemical site is a clear example of EPA's effective
management and problem-solving strategies at Superfund sites.

                          The Site Today
                             The majority of the cleanup
                          actions at Radium Chemical are
                          complete. The abandoned building
                          was dismantled and removed in
                          October 1991, when soil excavation
                             Soil disposal was completed in
                          March 1992; a risk assessment is
                          underway on the sewer system to
                          determine how much of it must be
                          removed. This study will be com-
                          pleted in spring 1993. The site will
                          be seeded for grass and considered
                          safe for a variety of productive
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                     Abandoned warehouse
                     dismantled and removed

                  Superfund At Work    Radium Chemical, Queens, NY
                                                            Spring 1993
               A Site Snapshot
  An abandoned building and  abandoned sites identified for
grounds known as the Radium  comprehensive cleanup under
Chemical site cover about one-
third of an acre in a light indus-
trial area of Queens, New York.
Some small businesses and
residences lie within half a
mile, and the   ^MBWHm
Queens Ex-
passes within
seven feet of
                 The surrounding area
                   shows no signs of
the Superfund program, which
had been enacted in 1980.
   Improperly handled radium
poses a serious occupational
threat to workers. If touched, it
~^n       causes radia-
               tion burns
               and can even
               result in the
               loss of limbs.
               In addition,
the site. Approximately 300,000   inhaling radon gas can cause
                              chronic bronchial diseases.
                                Only the site building and a
                              nearby structure were affected.
                              The surrounding area showed
                              no signs of contamination.
                              Nevertheless, EPA fenced the
people live within three miles.
  The building stored radium,
a radioactive substance used in
cancer treatment. The radium
was stored in lead casks that
housed about 10,000 small
metal containers commonly used   site, mounted a 24-hour security
to store radioactive materials.      guard, and installed a monitoring
  The most significant danger   system to prevent a potential
to the community was a poten-   release into the community. The
tial leak of radiation. This led     site's auxiliary sewer system
EPA to place Radium Chemical   was polluted with radium, but
on the National Priorities List    its discharge was contained,
(NPL) on November 21,1989.    and did not affect water flowing
The NPL is EPA's list of the       through the piping.
most serious uncontrolled or
Poor Waste Handling Practices
Draw Legal Actions
  The Radium Chemical site
stored radium beginning in the
1950s and ceased operations in
1988.  About 10,000 small metal
containers, storing a total of 120
curies of radium, were found in
the building.
  In 1983, New York State
ordered Radium Chemical Com-
pany to stop operating due to
shipping and handling violations.
Further inspections revealed that
the on-site radiation levels sur-
passed allowable standards,
indicating that the radium had
been improperly stored, and that
there were defects in the radium
containers.  Furthermore, these
investigations revealed that the
company had lost several ship-
ments of radium.
   In 1987, the state ordered
Radium Chemical Company to
remove its inventory of radium
containers and to decontaminate
                                                        State orders operations to cease
                                         Page 2

                     Superfund At Work     Radium Chemical, Queens, NY     Spring 1993
the warehouse. The company
vacated the site without comply-
ing, and in 1988 the site was
declared officially abandoned.
Radium Chemical Company was

   About 10,000 containers
    housing a total of 120
      curies of radium,
         were found
        in the building

prosecuted for criminal viola-
tions of the state labor law by the
State Attorney General and in
February 1989 was convicted on
four violations and fined the
maximum amount permitted by
   Although investigations
reveal that the Radium Chemical
Company has no assets, EPA is
preparing to place a lien on the
owner's property for future
recovery of cleanup costs.
EPA Quickly Reduces
Immediate Threats to
the Community
  To reduce the risk of radium
exposure to the community, EPA
began organizing cleanup at the
site even before it was listed on
theNPL. Such emergency
actions are warranted when-
ever hazardous wastes pose
an immediate
and substan-
tial endan-
germent to
health and the environment.
Beginning in late 1988, Superfund
 Supervised the removal of
  10,000 small metal containers
  of radium from the building to
  an approved waste disposal
  site, thereby significantly
  reducing the imminent threat
  to the community;
Constructed a fence around the
site to restrict public access;
Mounted round-the-clock
security and installed a remote
monitoring system designed to
warn EPA immediately of
         significant radiation
           Installed a foam
         system and special
         vents on the site to
         reduce the spread of
                 tion in the
                 event of fire
                 or explosion
              during the
     cleanup; and
Developed contingency plans
with hospitals and the local fire
and police departments to
minimize confusion in the
event of an emergency.
Radium Chemical
Queens, New York
                                       Wirehotise dtentarttted,
                                       Soil excavationtsegini
                                           Page 3

                    Superfund At Work
      Radium Chemical, Queens, NY
  Spring 1993
   Cleanup Underway at
      Radium Chemical
   If a fire or explosion had
   occurred at the Radium
   Chemical facility prior to
   EPA's cleanup actions,
the radiation released could
      have affected all of
          New York City.
                       A Brief Look at Radium:
                     The Element, The Dangers
     When French scientist
   Madame Curie first gazed at
   the brilliant white lumines-
   cence that would bear the
   name radium, she could not
   imagine its use to treat cancer
   patients or to explore physics,
   or even its use in glowing
   paints. She also could not
   imagine the difficulties present
   in keeping the element's radia-
   tion of alpha particles, nucle-
   ons, electrons, and gamma rays
   in check to limit risks to popu-
   lations and the environment.
     The most common form of
   the element is radium-226,
   which was stored at the Ra-
   dium Chemical site. While a
   useful tool in both technical
and medical fields, radium
also contains an element of
danger. If improperly stored
and handled, or if the sub-
stance is not carefully con-
tained and monitored, the
health risks to nearby resi-
dents can be extreme.
      The Element
  In the range of radiation
sicknesses, those derived from
radium exposure are among
the most devastating. Physical
contact with radium immedi-
ately begins to cause cells to
mutate. In one case, a small
amount of radium-tainted
gold was mixed with unaf-
fected materials to make rings;
some unsuspecting wearers
lost fingers from the radium
  Physical contact is rela-
tively easy to control; a threat
to a far greater population
comes from inhalation of
radium's by-product, radon
gas. Even short exposures to
radon can lead to chronic
bronchial diseases and long-
term exposure can be fatal.
                                         Page 4

                     Superfund At Work
       Radium Chemical, Queens, NY
                              Spring 1993
Long-Term Threats Eliminated Through
Expeditious Decision-Making
  Once the radium containers
were removed, EPA sought to
streamline cleanup of the remain-
ing site contamination. In the
fell of 1989, Superfund staff
conducted a rapid yet compre-
hensive investigation of potential
remedies that would reduce
long-term pollution problems
at the site.
  EPA undertook conscientious
community relations efforts that
assured citizen and business input
to decision-making (see story on
page 6). The selected approach for
long-term cleanup of Radium
Chemical involved the following
1) Decontaminating the building
  and then dismantling it;
2) Excavating contaminated soil;
3) Removing the contaminated
  sewer system, which affected
  the site and one other adjacent
4) Transferring contaminated
  materials to an approved waste
  disposal site; and
5) Seeding the lot for grass and    and design steps in only eight
                   Everything involved in
                     EPA's response
                        to this site
                   has been done on a
                     fast-track basis"
                       -- EPA official
  removing the security fence.
  After these steps are complete,
the site area will be safe for a
variety of productive uses.
  Most Superfund cleanups
adhere to the
approach of
designing the
remedy for the
site after it has
been formalized
in a Record of
Decision. This
design phase
can be lengthy,   -^-^
but at Radium Chemical, good
planning and community support
for the option allowed EPA to
merge the selection and design
steps. EPA had completed the
design effort by the time the
remedy was officially approved
in 1990.
  This effective and expedient
effort yielded two jobs for the
price of one. Furthermore, by
completing the study, selection,
months, EPA saved nearly a year
in the cleanup process. On the
subject of this unique approach,
EPA Regional Administrator
Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff
              remarked, "Ev-
              erything in-
              volved in EPA's
              response to this
              site has been
              done on a fast-
              track basis....
              Even the report
              on the remaining
              contamination in
the building was completed in
near-record time."
   EPA saved even more time and
money by starting the actual
cleanup the day after the remedy
was selected. Traditionally, EPA
accepts bids by cleanup contrac-
tors and selects a firm once the
design is complete. This competi-
tive process usually takes about
nine months.
   Superfund continued its fast-
track approach to Radium
Chemical by utilizing an existing
contract managed by the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers. The
Corps, which has a wealth of
experience in cleaning up the
nation's hazardous waste sites,
quickly dispatched its cleanup
team to the site.
                                                             Demolition of the
                                                             Radium Chemical facility
                                                             Removal of the abandoned
                                                             building was one element of
                                                             the long-term cleanup.
                                          Page 5

                     Superfund At Work    Radium Chemical, Queens, NY
EPA Responds to Community
Concerns Throughout Cleanup
Outreach Involves and
Educates the Community
  EPA was quick to address the
community's concerns regarding
the potential dangers at Radium
Chemical, and took a number of
measures to reach the public.
  Superfund staff set up an on-
site community relations trailer. A
24-hour hotline, with recordings
in Spanish, Greek, and English,
provided up-to-the-minute infor-
mation to the entire community.
EPA also distributed pamphlets in
these languages to educate citi-
zens and to assure them protec-
tive actions were being taken.
  Local businessmen also
worked in conjunction with EPA
to temporarily close surrounding
streets during the cleanup process.
Cleanup Precautions
Ease Health Fears
  EPA was able to secure the
Radium Chemical site efficiently
and effectively so that at no time
was the Brooklyn-Queens Ex-
pressway endangered by the site,
despite its proximity to the con-
tamination. No health problems
have been reported by site work-
ers or local residents.
    For additional copies of this or other
      Superfund At Work updates,
           contact the
   National Technical Information Service,
     U.S. Department of Commerce,
       5285 Port Royal Road,
        Springfield, VA 22161,
       telephone  (703) 487-4650.
   If you wish to be added to or deleted from our mailing list or to comment on this bulletin's
        content, length or format, please call (703) 603-8984 or send a letter to
        Superfund At Work(55Q2G), 401 M Street SW, Washington, DC  20460
Spring 1993

      Success at


    EPA's work at the Radium
 Chemical site protected New
 Yorkers from a serious radio-
 active pollutant. Superfund
 personnel promptly removed
 the immediate threat, secured
 the site, and designed a long-
 term cleanup approved by the
    EPA studied the site, chose
 the remedy, and designed the
 approach in tandem with the
 business and local commu-
 nity. EPA's streamlined
 cleanup approach also saved
 time and money. The site
 study, cleanup strategy, and
 cleanup design were com-
 bined, and work began the
 day after the design was
 selected. These cost-effective
 innovations saved about 18
 United States Environmental Protection Agency
 Washington, D.C. 20460

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