Schenectady County

Red water in Mohawk traced to old Navy depot

Red water spotted in the Mohawk River has been linked to a contaminated site in the Glenville Busine

Red water spotted in the Mohawk River has been linked to a contaminated site in the Glenville Business and Technology Park that the county has been trying to have cleaned up for a decade.

The red water was seen by a boater May 22 in the area of Maalwyck Park in West Glenville. A preliminary sampling was found to consist of “numerous volatile organic compounds of unknown origin,” the state Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement.

No further discharges and no environmental impacts have been observed, the DEC said. The spill was not listed on the agency’s online spill incidents database.

“The spill reporting requirements for chemical spills are different than for petroleum spills,” Rick Georgeson, a regional DEC spokesman, said in an email. “As a result, not all chemical spills necessarily get posted to the spills database. This particular spill was not reported via the spill hotline but rather by the town directly contacting our water staff to investigate.”

The DEC traced the material to the old Scotia Navy Depot site, an area of the industrial park owned by the federal General Services Administration and leased by the federal Defense Logistics Agency. The cleanup of about 65 acres at the site off Route 5 is included in President Obama’s proposed budget, with $15.78 million earmarked for the work.

“This kind of proves the point that we don’t want any residual contaminants from the depot to reach the river or the water supply,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority. “And that’s why we’ve been pressing so hard to make sure that doesn’t happen, to get a remediation strategy in place that would stop the contaminants moving forward and break them down and clean them up.”

“The other thing is economic development,” he added. “There are a lot of sites out there, and this is going to help us redevelop that old property.”

The target is an underground toxic plume beneath the long vacant facility, left behind by degreasers used in the repair and assembly of trucks and other vehicles during the Vietnam War. The plume is within a portion of the Great Flats Aquifer Protection Zone near the Mohawk River and contains the chemical trichloroethylene, which has been linked to cancer and other health problems.

Gillen said he was relieved to hear that trichloroethylene was not among the chemicals found in the red water. The chemicals found were 4-isopropyltoluene, acetone, ethylbenzene, isopropylbenzene, n-propylbenzene, styrene and total xylenes, the DEC said.

The president’s proposed funding includes money to monitor the site for 30 years. In 2011, the General Services Administration signed an agreement with the DEC to clean up the property, but the funding wasn’t allocated.

The plan is to install a barrier under the surface of the depot to break down the contamination, and officials in February 2013 started testing soil around the depot to determine where to place the barrier.

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have advocated for the site’s cleanup and the funding.

“This highlights exactly why Congress needs to move quickly to approve funding included in the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2015 to clean up the former Scotia Navy Depot and give the GSA the resources it needs to redevelop and environmentally remediate the property,” Tonko said in a statement. “The restoration of this location isn’t just important for local economic development, it is integral to public health and water quality in Glenville and all of Schenectady County.”

Glenville town Supervisor Chris Koetzle agreed.

“That’s something that the government has to clean up,” he said.

He compared the red water situation to a contamination plume that originated at 107 Freemans Bridge Road in Glenville, at the old Kenco Chemical Co. site. Since its discovery in 2006, the contamination has spread south toward the Mohawk River despite several cleanup attempts. The plume was found to contain trichloroethene and known carcinogens tetrachloroethene and dichloroethene.

“Just like Freemans Bridge Road, once that stuff gets underground and into the groundwater, it’s going to move toward the river,” Koetzle said. “That’s just natural.”

Scotia Mayor Kris Kastberg said news of the red water, which has since flowed downstream, hasn’t stopped people from swimming in the river. And it won’t stop the U.S. Water Ski Show Team from performing every Tuesday outside Jumpin’ Jacks Drive-In, he said.

“You like to know how it happened so it doesn’t happen again, but I don’t think it’s any major concern,” he said. “I’m sure it’s down by New York City at this point.”

The Defense Logistics Agency brought in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assist with the red water investigation, which is ongoing, the DEC said. The federal agency did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

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