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Cleanup update: Work at Tesla Lab winding down

by Jane Alcorn, 31 April 2007

The flurry of activity heard at the AGFA "Peerless" site in Shoreham has quieted now, as the work to clean up hazardous waste there has been winding down. Most of the cleanup has been completed, and AGFA now has to verify its cleanup and prepare its reports to be presented to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for the DEC's approval.

For over a decade, the property that was once used to process chemicals for photo-processing has been in the hands of AGFA Corporation as it developed a plan to clean up the chemicals. The main contaminants were cadmium and silver.

The previous owners and others had dumped waste from the chemical processes into various sections of the property, especially into the base of what had once been Nikola Tesla's communications tower, built at the turn of the last century.

Tesla had worked in the brick building on the property, (which was designed by his friend, renowned architect Stanford White), preparing for his "Wardenclyffe World Wireless System." When he ran out of money and his backers refused to give him more, Tesla had to abandon his project. The tower, which rose about 187 feet above the ground, and rested on a base that was about 120 feet deep, was eventually razed and sold for scrap to pay Tesla's debts.

In 1939 Peerless Photo Products purchased the property, and in the early 1970s the site was bought by AGFA. AGFA did not operate the business there for long, but closed down operations and began to plan for a cleanup of the property, which had been seriously contaminated over the years from dumping of the photo-chemicals.

The DEC required AGFA to prepare a plan for cleanup, and then the plan was reviewed, corrected and revised until it met with DEC's approval. Then the cleanup of the site began. It included soil removal and replacement in several on-site locations, as well as on portions of the LIPA right-of-way that borders the property.

"The cleanup is in very good shape," said DEC representative Girish Desai. "The tower base stabilization is completed, and the LIPA right-of-way has been done in a timely way. AGFA is now reviewing and validating its data."

The tower base was the repository of many chemicals and other debris over the years, and the means AGFA employed for environmental protection in the base was to inject a stabilizing material into it, which would solidify the materials there and prevent any leaching of chemicals or other contaminants into the environment.

The stabilizing material, a type of concrete slurry, was injected about 200 feet into the ground, and as the injector was pulled up, the slurry was left behind to spread out and solidify. AGFA now must replace one monitoring well that was damaged by the process, and proceed with sampling and verification before writing the reports that will go to the DEC.

"They are right on tract to get the job done," said Desai. "AGFA is writing the reports. They had very good success with the Tesla tower base. They finished all the work in good time. They must yet do the well sampling, but the soil work has been done."

"The large equipment is gone, and the bulk of the field work is done," said Charlene Graff, the AGFA project director, "but we still have some work ahead of us."

Graff noted that AGFA is responsible for long-term monitoring of the wells. How long it will continue depends upon the results of the monitoring. Graff is planning for 30 years, but hopes it will be less.

Some of the remaining buildings on the site are being considered for removal. According to Graff, she anticipates the removal of the old office/administrative building visible from Route 25A, the old white house, also on Route 25A, and the old wastewater treatment building, situated on the western side of the site.

"I don't know about the other buildings," she said, referring to the add-ons attached to the Tesla laboratory. She said the building removal date has not been decided yet, with the cleanup taking priority.

The original brick Tesla laboratory building, however, is expected to remain. It is listed on Brookhaven Town's Historic Register. A local group, Friends of Science East, Inc., hopes to create a science museum in the century-old laboratory, if AGFA agrees to donate the property to the Town of Brookhaven.

"We're happy to learn that AGFA has almost completed the approved cleanup at the site. We're looking forward to the possibility that AGFA and Brookhaven will come to agreement on the disposition of the property and that Friends of Science East might be able to operate a museum at the site in the future," said Gene Genova, Vice President of Friends of Science East, Inc.

"I'm glad to see we're finally getting to the end of the remediation. I hope the monitoring will begin immediately, and I hope we'll be in a position to talk to AGFA as soon as they feel the remediation is complete," said Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin McCarrick, who represents the Shoreham area.

Source: The Sound Observer (Spring 2007)
(Reproduced with permission.)