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EPA Starts Cleanup Of Low-Level Radioactive Dirt At Public Park in Gloucester City, New Jersey

Release Date: 12/16/1998
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(#98171A) NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Starting this week and over the next two weeks, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will remove soil tainted with thorium and uranium from a section of a Gloucester City public park as a precautionary measure. The waste, which could be a potential health hazard to people who come in contact with it over long periods of time, may have been deposited in the park for use as fill. It was left by the Welsbach Company which processed an ore containing thorium for use in manufacturing gas lamp mantles in Gloucester City from the late 1890s to the early 1940s. The excavated soil will be temporarily stored in sealed containers at a city-owned vacant lot where public access has been restricted until EPA can ship it to an off-site disposal facility within about six weeks. Once excavation work is completed, EPA will refill the area with clean soil and replant it. The Agency will spend close to $1 million to complete this action at the Wellsbach/General Gas Mantle Contamination federal Superfund site.

"While health experts believe the risk from the radioactive waste is relatively low, we prefer to eliminate the risk and get the material out of there," EPA Regional Administrator Jeanne M. Fox explained. "We will continue to work closely with Mayor Sandi Love's office, which is providing local support during the course of this action," she added. Last April, EPA found the contamination in a roughly 65 by 85-foot section of the park southwest of the tennis courts, near the jogging track along the Conrail right-of-way and adjacent to the Memorial Little League Field. The Agency discovered the material during its investigation of six areas identified by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as likely locations where radioactive waste may have been disposed of in connection with the federal Superfund site. EPA is planning to hold a public meeting in Gloucester City early next year to discuss the results of its investigation of the site.

BACKGROUND

The extraction process used by Welsbach removed only a portion of the thorium from the ore, leaving behind some thorium in the waste material. Radioactive elements such as thorium are unstable and can only become stable by releasing energy. Thorium releases energy in the form of alpha particles, beta particles or gamma radiation. The radioactive decay also forms radon gas. Radon gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless and can be harmful if people are exposed to it over many years. Gamma radiation may pose health problems to people who come in contact with the wastes over long periods of time.


For more information contact:
Richard Cahill, Press Office
EPA Region 2
290 Broadway
NY, NY 10007-1866
Voice: 212-637-3666 FAX: 212-637-5046 E-Mail: cahill.richard@epamail.epa.gov