During the Cold War, the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, just north of Albany, was used for atomic weapons research. From 1950 to 1953, the facility was used to research recovering uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuels, leaving radioactive waste on the site. Two years ago, the Knolls facility began a cleanup of the radioactive soil, which covers about five acres along the Mohawk River.
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, during the heavy rains of October 25, a failed pumping system caused of water tainted with cesium 137, strontium 90, uranium and plutonium to overflow into a culvert that drained directly into the river. The spill lasted about three hours and contained about 630 gallons of tainted water.
DEC spokesman Rick Georgeson said the spill did not present any immediate threat to public health. That being said, the elements in the spill are radioactive and are known carcinogens. On November 3, the DEC issued a citation against Knolls for violating the Clean Water Act. According to the citation, Knolls officials indicated the "exact composition of the discharge is unknown at this time." No penalty or fine has been announced as of yet.
Knolls has announced they are taking steps to prevent future spills, including sump-pump monitors. We can only hope they are right. Radioactive materials are highly dangerous. Companies who handle toxic waste or radioactive waste improperly risk exposing their workers and the public to these harmful materials. The health effects of exposure can be devastating. Companies who expose people to toxic or radioactive chemicals need to be held accountable for their actions.
Source: Albany Time Union: Radioactive leak from Knolls cleanup site; Brian Nearing; 11/8/10