Corner of John Street and Richmond Terrace, Port Richmond, Staten Island, New York, 10302
This profile is part of a series on sites formerly associated with US nuclear weapons development and production in New York City. For an overview of all the sites, click here.
According to the Department of Energy, this warehouse “Stored pitchblende (high-grade uranium ore), which was purchased by the MED for the first atomic bomb.” MED is the acronym for the Manhattan Engineer District, which become known as the “Manhattan Project.”
According to NIOSH (p. 183) the ore stored in this location “from 1939 through 1942” was “from the Belgian Congo” and belonged initially to Union Minière du Haut Katanga, the “result of an independent speculative business enterprise.” It was stored in a warehouse owned at the time by Archer-Daniels Midland Company. The Manhattan Project “learned of this material in 1942 and subsequently purchased and removed the ores at that time.” Unlike “the material stored at the Baker and Williams Warehouses”, the material stored in Staten Island was “was not government controlled or owned” until the MED bought it in 1942. NIOSH reported that “The building where these ores were stored appears to have been demolished after MED acquisition of the materials sometime between 1942 and 1946.”
In 1980 Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted a preliminary radiological survey of the site. In “the northwest corner of the parcel, gamma radiation levels were found to be significantly above background, indicating the presence of contamination” (pp. 2-3). The study recommended a more extensive survey. According to a 2009 Gotham Gazette story, in 1992 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation “conducted another assessment, this time of subsurface soil. It found the soil below the surface was far more radioactive than the surface samples studied by the energy department. Yet for reasons as yet unknown, no action was taken.”
However, it was not until 1999 that public attention was focused on the site. Beryl Thurman, then the president of the Port Richmond Civic Association, heard that the site had been used in the Manhattan Project and filed a Freedom of Information Act Request, according to WaterWire, the news service of the Waterfront Alliance, which did an extensive story on the site in 2010. She received a copy of the 1980 study by fax in 2001 and began an advocacy effort, seeking further survey of and remediation of the site.
Later Executive Director/President of the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy of Staten Island, she told SILive on the 2011 anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing that “For a long time we have heard of various Japanese visitors seeking out the Staten Island Manhattan Storage Project Site on Richmond Terrace to pray and pay their respects to those who were lost during the bombings.”
In 2011 NIOSH determined that “Documentation reviewed indicates that there is little potential for significant residual contamination outside of the period in which weapons-related production occurred.” Nevertheless, according to the Department of Energy, the site has been referred to the US Army Corps of Engineers, whose “evaluation [is] in progress.” According to the Corps’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) Annual Report for FY2018, “The Corps of Engineers is currently considering whether to include them in the program. If any of these properties are designated FUSRAP sites, they will be addressed when funding becomes available in the national program” (p. 15).
- Preliminary radiological survey, prepared by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in October 1980. Download.
- 2011 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report (see page 183). Download.
For more information, read the dedicated Wastelands page for the Port Richmond Warehouse site. The Department of Energy’s dedicated page for the site includes scans of relevant historical documents. See also this interesting profile of the history and geography of the site from the Friends of the Pleistocene.
By Matthew Bolton, 2019.