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Cleanup at Tesla Lab Continues
by Jane Alcorn, 28 February 2006
Over one hundred years ago, scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla
stood on the land in Shoreham that he called Wardenclyffe, and
imagined a tower that would rise over 180 feet above the landscape.
Eventually, with funding from financier J.P. Morgan, Tesla began
the work of building that tower, which he intended to use for
communication and for transmission of electromagnetic waves. The
tower was never totally completed, but some of the base on which
it stood still remains, as does the laboratory where Tesla worked,
a building designed by Tesla's friend, noted architect Stanford
White. That was in 1902. Now, in 2006, the property is owned by
Agfa Corporation, which purchased the property from Peerless Photo
Products. Peerless, and later, Agfa, processed photographic materials
at the site. In that process, chemicals including cadmium were
thrown away in catch basins and in the base of what was the tower.
The base of the tower was composed in part, of a large hole in the
ground that extended about 120 feet deep. This tower base became
a convenient site for the disposal of chemicals and other items,
For over a decade, under the direction of the New York Department
of Environmental Conservation, Agfa has been engaged in planning a
cleanup of the site, in which contaminated soils are removed, clean
fill is trucked in, and the tower base is capped to prevent leaching
of potentially hazardous materials into the groundwater. That process
is nearing completion, and the soil removal and replacement at
several locations on the site have been accomplished.
The tower base, however, has presented some unique challenges.
Agfa and the DEC have been sensitive to the preservation of the
tower base foundation and walls, considering that future technology
may provide a way to excavate the base in a safe way, while maintaining
the archeological and scientific integrity of the base. In the
process of sealing and capping the contaminated areas of the base
soils, large chunks of concrete have been encountered, preventing
some of the original plan of sealing and capping from being
implemented. As a result, Agfa and the DEC have been exploring
"We had a slight delay due to technical problems with the
tower base. It wasn't constructed as we envisioned," said
Charlene Graff, Agfa's engineer in charge of the project.
The excavation of the tower base is wider than Agfa originally
intended, shaped similarly to a funnel: wider at the top than at
"We found significant debris and concrete. Some of the
pieces were over one foot thick and eight feet long. It appears to
be quite old, and doesn't have any rebar or reinforcement, so we
are unsure about where it came from. It might have sloughed off the
tower base," she said.
"We've requested the state to allow us to use a different
technology to deliver the stabilizer," said Graff. "Originally
we intended to use an augur technique. Now we'd like to use
jet-grouting equipment. It allows us to deliver the stabilizing
solution. A much smaller probe goes down, with much greater success.
Instead of a mixing or paddling motion it uses an injection
"They looked around and found out there is another method
to deliver the cement mixture [stabilizer] that is a new delivery
method," said Girish Desai, DEC director of the project.
"We want to do it right," said Desai. He also said the
excavation of the tower base is about 55 feet across and 28 feet
Once approval is given for the change in delivery method for the
stabilizer, it will take several weeks for the equipment to arrive.
"A few months ago we were ahead of schedule. Then the
problems with the concrete in the tower base were discovered. Now
it will take longer than we planned," said Graff.
According to Graff, most of the rest of the excavation is
completed, except for the portion to be done on LIPA's right-of-way
and some soil replacement on other sections. She said the last parts
will be completed as weather permits, with soil replacement and
seeding perhaps possible in April.
Asked about the air quality monitoring that was done during the
earlier soil removal, Graff said there were no problems.
"The air readings showed no levels of anything were
raised," she said.
The future of the land, when the cleanup is complete, is uncertain.
Agfa and Brookhaven Town have discussed a potential donation of the
land to the Town. Discussion has also been held between Brookhaven
Town and Friends of Science East, Inc., a local group that would
like to establish a science museum and Tesla archive in the old
laboratory when the work is completed. The Tesla Science Center at
Wardenclyffe would house memorabilia of Tesla and his work, and
offer programs and exhibits for students and the general public on
science-related topics, along with community space for meetings and
other activities. The Shoreham Hamlet Study includes the concept
of a science museum at the site, and there has been general support
in the community for that possibility.
Source: The Sound Observer
(Reproduced with permission.)