From the NY Times:
City, state and federal agencies have long known that an industrial site in Ridgewood, Queens, contained radioactive material. The location, currently home to an auto repair shop, a construction firm, a warehouse and a deli, was once used by the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company, which sold thorium to the federal government for research on atomic bombs.
Until recently, officials considered the contamination level low enough not to be of concern. But over time, regulations changed, and inspectors began making repeat visits to the site, conducting surveys of radiation levels. The latest comprehensive federal study, released in February 2012, found levels significant enough to conclude that “workers at the auto body shop and pedestrians who frequently use the sidewalks at this location may have an elevated risk of cancer.”
With that, the site will soon be considered for Superfund status, the Environmental Protection Agency said.
The Wolff-Alport Chemical Company was, for three decades, a supplier of rare earth metals, the agency said in its report. The company dumped thorium and some uranium into the sewer system as waste byproducts until 1947, when the Atomic Energy Commission, the successor of the Manhattan Project, began buying thorium for research, according to government documents.
Stephen I. Schwartz, editor of the The Nonproliferation Review, a journal on nuclear weapons, said the Manhattan Project and ensuing research left contamination sites around the country, but most fall under the Department of Energy’s purview and have been addressed. A sprawling site in Hanford, Wash., is still under remediation.
In Queens, the owners of the auto repair shop and the construction firm said no mention of the possible radioactive contamination was made when they began renting their spaces. The auto repair shop moved in 14 years ago; the construction firm moved in six years ago.
The nondescript building sits along the border with Bushwick, Brooklyn, near Long Island Rail Road tracks. Residential homes line nearby streets, and a day care center and a public school sit two blocks away. An agency representative said these locations did not show high levels of radiation.