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State Warns Hudson Valley Residents 'Free Dirt' Might Actually Be Contaminated

If you see a sign like this, it means radioactivity may be nearby. State officials are warning about free but "contaminated dirt" being sold as "clean fill." Photo Credit: File
If a contractor offers or delivers so-called "clean fill" for your property, the should be licensed and be able to provide a signed form like this one, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Photo Credit: Department of Environmental Conservation

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is warning Hudson Valley residents to be cautious when offered free fill material for use to level or grade their properties. 

The Buffalo News reported that radioactive waste had been discovered in fill near the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park, in this article. 

State officials confirmed to the Buffalo News that tests by the DEC found low levels of radioactivity, along with petroleum waste and traces of benzopyrene, a cancer-causing chemical found in coal tar, cigarette smoke and vehicle exhaust.

There are only two tiny signs more than 100 feet inside a fence surrounding the site of a new entrance pathway to Niagara Falls and a bus drop-off lane near the piles of dirt dumped there just as summer began.

The signs do not spell out radioactive waste but refer to TENORM – government shorthand for "technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material," according to The Buffalo News.

In July, the DEC announced results of a crackdown on illegal dumping, and outlined how homeowners can be victimized by companies who offer free fill that is actually contaminated with solid waste materials.

"As the saying goes: A deal too good to be true probably is," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos announced in an Aug. 8 press statement. "Landowners should be skeptical and ask tough questions when a contractor offers to provide fill material at no charge. This so-called 'clean fill' is sometimes mixed together with solid waste from construction sites and landowners could find their properties burdened with contaminated material."

At the time, DEC offered these tips to Hudson Valley and Long Island property owners seeking to obtain suitable fill for leveling or adjusting the grade of properties:

  • Look at the fill material as it is received. It should consist of natural soil, sand, gravel, or rock with no non-soil constituents (see below), and should be free of petroleum or any other odors;
  • Check to ensure the fill material is free of regulated wastes such as concrete, brick, asphalt, asbestos, drywall, plaster, roofing materials, wood, metal, tiles, paint chips, ash, slag, coal, pieces of particle boards, carpet, petroleum-contaminated soil, and other contaminated materials;
  • If material originates in New York City, the homeowner / generator must notify the respective DEC Regional Offices in Stony Brook and New Paltz five days prior to receiving the material about its placement. 

Homeowners should request that the supplier provide them with documents about the site location-and fill characteristics. Make sure that the section for the Qualified Environmental Professional is signed and includes contact information. 

Hudson Valley residents with questions should contact DEC's Region 3 Office of Materials Management at 845-256-3138.

DEC urges anyone who witnesses illegal dumping activities, or may have been a victim of illegal dumping to report these crimes to NYSDEC 24-hour Poacher and Polluter hotline at 1-844-DEC-ECOS (844-332-3267).

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