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Sleepy Hollow Residents Concerned About Duracell Cleanup

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. – The site remediation process that's occurring at the former Duracell battery plant in Sleepy Hollow has brought out mixed responses from residents in and out of the affected area.

Officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said 78 properties around the Duracell site will need to have soil taken away due to excessive mercury levels.

AECOM tested about 2,000 soil samples from 146 properties in the village during a soil investigation. That investigation found elevated mercury and lead levels at various sites in the village, Dan Lanners said. Lanners is the project manager at the DEC.

Officials have sent letters to property owners who have had their soil tested, notifying them if remediation is necessary. The village has also posted a 970-page investigation report on the soil testing on its website.

A public meeting on the remediation process was held at Sleepy Hollow High School on November 7. Officials from the DEC, New York State Department of Health and Gillette discussed the soil investigation.

Sleepy Hollow Mayor Ken Wray stressed that residents should have their soil tested if they are in the target area. About 10 property owners refused to have their soil tested during the investigation process.

“We'd like to see this get underway and the cleanup get done, but it all comes back to the health of our residents. I would urge anybody in the target area or if the target area is expanded, and who hasn't been tested, to be tested,” Wray said.

Some residents have been concerned that Gillette and the DEC are not doing enough to inform the public about contamination levels. Sleepy Hollow resident Justin Paré said he was concerned that officials have not been discussing the high levels of mercury found in Barnhart Park.

Paré was also concerned about the number of residents who came to the public meeting.

“At least 80 properties will be remediated and there were barely 10 to 15 affected residents present with a plethora of politicians, reporters, as well as DEC, DOH, Gillette and AECOM personnel outnumbering the public,” he said.

Only properties with mercury levels higher than 4.8 milligrams per kilogram will need to be remediated, Lanners said. The site cleanup objectives have been a particular concern with residents because the levels are higher than recommended guidelines.

“Why are we saying 4.8 parts per million as far as this program?” Elias Boumis asked officials at the public meeting. Boumis' parents live on Kendal Ave., which has been particularly affected by pollution from the plant.

“There's a reason for a guideline, so if I look up and it says 1.2, that's the threshold,” he said. “So why should we be treated any different?”

Officials said the cleanup goals are based on Duracell's operations. “4.8 was chosen as a cleanup goal here because that was the break between what was attributable to historic fill and what is attributable to Duracell's operations,” DOH official Tom Johnson said. “We cannot legally require Gillette to cleanup something that was not their responsibility.”

Tracy Brown lives in Sleepy Hollow Manor. Although her home was never in the testing area, she said she's still concerned about the outcome of soil testing and the cleanup process.

Brown works at Riverkeeper, and said that makes her more aware of the pollution at the former plant. She questioned why Gillette was only cleaning mercury-laden soil that was at a level four times higher than the federal recommended level and why the high lead levels found at some properties were not being corrected as well.

Among several issues she cited, Brown wondered how not cleaning up all the mercury and lead would affect kids growing up in the area. She also noted it would affect property values in the village.

“I'd like to see them remediate sites to current standards,” she said.

Health officials have said that the site cleanup objectives are safe for all residents. Johnson said during the public meeting that a number of factors make it less likely that people will be exposed to enough mercury to be a serious concern and that they're satisfied with the site cleanup objectives.

“We don't believe that people are going to have health effects at this level,” he said.

Kendal Ave. resident Maria Gorete-Crowe said she was concerned with the many immigrants who have moved onto the street and are growing vegetables in their backyards.

“The health department needs to say, 'Do not eat the vegetables'” grown in your yard, she said.

Officials said the contamination levels do not warrant such a strong action. They're urging people to personally decide what's right for them.

You can download a PDF file of the full soil testing results here . A fact sheet provided by Gillete and the NYSDEC can be downloaded as a PDF file here .

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