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Source: Newsday

Tons of tainted waste shipped off Plum Island, records show

Posted: June 30, 2010
Originally Published: June 26, 2010

As the anticipated closure of the animal disease center at Plum Island nears, hundreds of tons of medical waste, contaminated soil and other refuse have been shipped off the island for disposal since 2000, government documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

A 2007 DEC letter confirmed the island's motor pool and nearly 20 other locations on the island had been cleaned to comply with the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In some instances, sites were excavated and contaminated soil was removed to landfills.

State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Bill Fonda added that between 2000 and 2007, some 970 tons of medical waste - material that could not be burned in one of the lab's incinerators - was taken from 10 Plum Island sites to landfills in Pennsylvania.

Plum Island had been the site of a secret Army germ warfare research and decades of studies of dangerous animal diseases.

Yet some environmentalists remain concerned about the secrecy surrounding the 840-acre island off northeastern Long Island - and they're dubious of any claims that pollution has been remedied.

"Every government cleanup needs the public's involvement and independent oversight to ensure its validity," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. The Department of Homeland Security is preparing to sell the island and build a new high-security laboratory in Kansas to study animal diseases.

Before the island, its ferry dock and mainland offices can be sold, the General Services Administration, which manages federal properties, is studying the environmental impact of the research activities. A draft is expected by summer's end and public hearings will follow.

Gigi Gronvall, a senior associate at the University of Pittsburgh-based Center for Biosecurity, said there was little need to worry about any residual disease contamination.

"I'd say it's extremely unlikely that any pathogens could have been released," Gronvall said. "Those labs are designed to be one of the barriers between the pathogens and the environment." - AP