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Former Sites Involved in Nuclear Weapons Development and Production in New York City

In 2013, journalists John Emshwiller and Jeremy Singer-Vine were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for their  “Wastelands” project, a sprawling investigation of sites throughout the US that had played a role in the nuclear weapons program. They wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “During the buildup to the Cold War, the federal government turned to the private sector to help develop and produce nuclear weapons and other forms of atomic energy. Hundreds of companies and thousands of workers were pressed into service. … [T]his enormous endeavor has left an equally enormous—but rarely publicized—cleanup job of contamination that spans the country.” Below is a brief video summarizing their work:

Emshwiller and Singer-Vine identified 30 sites with varying levels of association with nuclear weapons development and production in New York City. At five of these, environmental remediation of the radiological legacies has been considered or actually implemented. Links to detailed profiles of these sites are available in the section below.  This is followed by a list of all of the other sites identified by the Wall Street Journal as having some association with nuclear weapons development and production, but where the government has deemed the risk of ongoing contamination low.

Sites Where Environmental Remediation Has Been Considered or Implemented

The following sites associated with nuclear weapons development and/or production in New York City had legacies of radioactive contamination that resulted in environmental remediation being considered, approved or undertaken. Follow the links to a detailed profile of each site:

  • Columbia University, Various Buildings, Morningside Heights, Manhattan, New York. Site of nuclear research before and during the Manhattan Project. The university itself conducted remediation activities and the US Department of Energy determined in 1985 that “no additional Department of Energy actions are warranted.”
  • Former Baker and Williams Warehouses, 521-527 W. 20th Street, Manhattan, New York, 10011. Uranium materials were stored in these buildings between 1942 and 1943, close to the High Line. The Department of Energy certified that remediation activities were completed by Bechtel in 1995 and the buildings were ready for “unrestricted use.”
  • Former Wolff-Alport Chemical Corp. Site, 1125 to 1139 Irving Avenue and 1514 Cooper Avenue, Ridgewood, Queens, New York 11385. Between 1948 and 1954, the company at this site sold thorium oxalate sludge to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Around 2013, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted short-term remediation activities and in 2017, the site was identified as one of only three EPA Superfund sites in New York City.
  • Former Archer Daniels Midland Company Warehouse, Corner of John Street and Richmond Terrace, Port Richmond, Staten Island, New York, 10302. Between 1939 and 1946 uranium ore for the Manhattan Project was stored at this site. In 1980, a US Department of Energy survey found radioactive contamination in one part of the site. Following local advocacy efforts, the site is being considered by the US Army Corps of Engineers for remediation.
  • Former Radium Chemical Company, Inc. Site, 60-06 27th Avenue, Woodside, Queens, New York. This company supplied the Manhattan Project with radium. It became an EPA Superfund Site and remediation activities occurred between 1989 and 1994. The building has now been demolished and the site is no longer a Superfund Site.

It is also worth noting that there have been concerns about radium contamination in civilian waste at Great Kills Park on Staten Island. (See this New York Times article).

Other Sites Where Radioactive Material May Have Been Handled, But Remediation Was Deemed Unnecessary

For each of these sites, the name is linked to the Wastelands page. A brief summary from the most detailed official source on the site then follows.

  • American Machine & Foundry Co., Second Avenue and 56th Street, Brooklyn, New York: According to “200 tons U and Th metal were machined at this facility…. [A]ir monitoring data from the time of operations indicat[ed] significant dispersal of radioactive material concentrations, there is a high probability that residual contamination existed after the period in which weapons-related production occurred up until the time of the facility renovation. … The present facility was surveyed for/by the DOE in January 1992. No elevated radiation readings were identified at that time” (NIOSH p. 15).
  • American Railway Express Office, New York:  “Involved with a fire during transport of uranium scrap. … Potential for contamination remote” (Department of Energy).
  • Cornell University Medical College, New York: “Research activities involving small quantities of radioactive materials in a controlled environment. … Potential for contamination considered remote – Only research quantities of material used” (Department of Energy).
  • Fordham University, New York: “Research and development involving small quantities of radioactive material in a controlled environment. … Potential for contamination remote” (Department of Energy).
  • Long Island College of Medicine, New York, New York: “Performed research utilizing small quantities of radioactive materials in a controlled environment. … Potential for contamination remote” (Department of Energy).
  • Markite Co., 155 Waverly Place , New York , New York: “Conducted experiments with very small amounts of uranium and thorium. … Handled limited amounts of radioactive materials – Potential for contamination remote” (Department of Energy).
  • Memorial Hospital, New York: “Conducted studies for” the Manhattan Project, “including a ‘Physiological Study of Sunbath Treatments.’ Involvement with radioactive materials unknown. … Potential for contamination remote” (Department of Energy).
  • New York University, New York: “Available documentation does not clearly establish that research and development work performed for the AEC involved the handling of radioactive materials. There is documentation describing a request for a small quantity of UO3 made in 1952, but there is no evidence of receipt or disposition of this material. … Based on the information contained in available documentation, recognizing that laboratory controls would have likely been implemented to prevent cross-contamination of the detector instruments being developed and tested, and the limited amount of radioactive materials handled, there is little potential for residual contamination outside the covered period” (NIOSH p. 145).
  •  Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn: “Research and development involving only small quantities of radiological material in a controlled environment. … Potential for contamination remote” (Department of Energy).
  • Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, New York: Research and development involving only small amounts of radioactive material in a controlled environment. … Potential for contamination remote” (Department of Energy).
  • Transcontinental Machine and Tool Co., 154 Spring Street, New York: “Metal Fabrication operations – Machined Uranium slugs in support of Savannah River program for evaluation of Uranium fabrication methods.  … Based on similar AEC/MED machine shops’ surveys with low potential for contamination – did not exceed DOE guidelines” (Department of Energy). Read also, Singer-Vine’s article about this site in The Wall Street Journal.

Other Sites Associated with Nuclear Weapons Development and Production, Where Radioactive Material Was Reportedly Not Handled

For each of these sites, the name is linked to the Wastelands page. A brief summary from the most detailed official source on the site then follows.

  • African Metals, 41 Broad Street, New York, New York: “U.S. Agent for Union Miniere du Haut Katanga; site of the main corporate offices; no radioactive materials handled at this location” (Department of Energy).
  • American Machine and Foundry Co., Bus Terminal Office, Port Authority Bus Terminal, New York: Office was used to “Design, procure, and ship material supporting development of means for handling extruded uranium metal rod.” However, they found “No indication radioactive materials were handled at this site” (Department of Energy).
  • Belmont Smelting and Refining Works, Inc., Brooklyn New York: supplied the Manhattan Project “with construction materials” but there was “No indication of radioactive materials handled at this site” (Department of Energy).
  • Enterprise Metal Products, Brooklyn, New York: “Machined magnesium metal. … Potential for contamination remote” (Department of Energy).
  • Ferro Metal and Chemical Co., 50 Broad Street, New York, New York: “Procured uranium from foreign sources. No record of radioactive material at this site. … No indication that radioactive materials were used at this site” (Department of Energy).
  • Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York: “The Air station was considered by the AEC but was not used”, so no radioactive material at this site (Department of Energy).
  • Ledoux and Co., 155 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York: “Prime contractor to AEC, African Metals. LeDoux handled radioactive materials under this contract at other locations; records indicate that radioactive materials were not sent to the New York office. … Potential for contamination considered remote – Radioactive materials were not handled” (Department of Energy).
  • Lucius Pitkin, 47 Fulton Street, New York, New York: “No MED or AED work done at this site. Contractor supervised activities at Middlesex Sampling Plant in Middlesex, NJ such as assaying, sampling and weighing of ore.  No radioactive material handled at this site” (Department of Energy).
  • National Carbon Co, New York: “Produced graphite for the MED/AEC. … Potential for residual radioactive contamination considered remote – No indication that radioactive material was used on the site” (Department of Energy).
  • Pyroferric Co, 621 E. 216th Street, New York, New York: “One small scale experiment was conducted with non-radioactive material” (Department of Energy).
  • Radiation Applications, Inc., 370 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York: “Developed foam separation techniques and proposed investigations to remove cesium and strontium from fission product waste solutions. No indication that a substantial quantity of radioactive material was involved. … Potential for contamination considered remote” (Department of Energy).
  • Union Mines Development Corp, New York: “The company owned uranium mines or reserves located in the western U.S. … No reason to believe radioactive material was used at this site” (Department of Energy).

Other Sites Where Little Information Is Known

For these sites, the Department of Energy has provided the following notation: “This site is one of a group of 77 FUSRAP considered sites for which few, if any records are available in their respective site files to provide an historical account of past operations and their relationship, if any, with MED/AEC operations. Reviews of contact lists, accountable station lists, health and safety records and other documentation of the period do not provide sufficient information to warrant further search of historical records for information on these sites. These site files remain “open” to consider any information that might be obtained in the future that would suggest further investigation is warranted.”

For each of these sites, the name is linked to the Wastelands page.

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By Matthew Bolton, 2019.

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