State Officials, Residents Meet Over Air Brake Pollution

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Officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) met with residents of Watertown's north side for almost three hours Thursday.

The topic? Pollution from the old New York Air Brake plant. For the better part of a month, pressure has been mounting on the DEC. A public meeting at the end of August drew scores of people, many of whom believe they are suffering health problems as a result of chemicals deposited by the Air Brake decades ago.

That August meeting - and a follow-up appearance by a crowd at a Watertown city council meeting - led to Thursday's session. Four residents attended Thursday's meeting, as did Watertown's city manager and a representative of the state Department of Health.

The meeting was closed to the press and at one point state officials tried to have reporters thrown off the fifth floor of the state office building in Watertown, where the session took place.

All along, DEC officials have said the site was properly cleaned up in the 1990s, and that testing for toxic vapors in 2008 was done to health standards.

Jim Barker, one of the north siders at Thursday's meeting, said residents pressed for more testing, using stricter standards.

"If you're going to test to the current standards, I don't know what that's going to accomplish," Barker said after the meeting.

Peter Ouderkirk, the DEC official who monitors the Air Brake landfill, appeared to disagree.

"Regardless of a change in standard, the testing still demonstrates the safety for the homes and homeowners we did test," he said after the meeting.

"If there's a change, I don't believe it's going to result in a redefinition of the area; it's just going to be a different comparison."

It's not clear whether more testing will take place. The state Department of Health would have to request the Department of Environmental Conservation do additional tests. The meeting concluded with an agreement to meet again, though it wasn't known Thursday when the next meeting will take place.

Monday, December 22, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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