Great Kills Park Environmental Cleanup Project
Elevated levels of radioactivity were first discovered in Great Kills Park in 2005 during an aerial survey conducted by the New York City Police Department to develop a baseline radiological map of the city. Based on investigations conducted by the NPS to date, the NPS believes that some of the fill materials used to create land for a portion of the park contained radium. The materials found include debris and other friable material and certain discarded medical devices which were relatively common at the time. From 2005-2007, additional areas of elevated radioactivity, subsequently determined to be radium-226, were found within Great Kills Park.
In response to these discoveries, the NPS, under the authority of the Comprehensive Environmental, Response, Compensation and Liability Act ("CERCLA"), took actions to determine the extent of radiological contamination and identify and implement short term measures to protect public health and the environment until a permanent remedy is selected and implemented. Between 2007 and 2009, the NPS completed a Preliminary Assessment, excavated and removed seven locations of radioactive contamination and closed the site to the public to prevent exposure to elevated levels of radioactivity.
What is Radium?
The radioactive contamination present at Great Kills Park has been identified as radium-226. Radium was first discovered in the early 1900's. The health effects of radium were not understood and it quickly became a very popular product used in hundreds of consumer products including hair tonic, toothpaste, and glow in the dark watch and clock faces. It was widely used in luminescent paints through World War II, because the soft glow of radium's luminescence made aircraft dials, gauges and other instruments visible to their operators at night. Radium was also an early radiation source for cancer treatment. Small radium pieces were implanted in tumors to kill cancerous cells. Most of radium's original uses have been halted for health and safety reasons and radium has been replaced with safer alternatives.
National Park Service
Potential Safety and Health Risks
Radiation is energy given off by atoms and is present in nature all around us. Everyone is exposed to low levels of radiation every day from naturally occurring radioactive elements, from cosmic (sun) rays, and man-made exposures like medical x-rays.
On average we receive a dose of about 620 mrem per year from radioactive materials naturally present in the environment as well as medical procedures and the use of consumer products. Mrem stands for millirem or 1/1,000 of a rem, which is the unit that measures what effect radiation has on the body. Here are some other doses for comparison:
chest x-ray - 10 mrem (each)
The radioactivity measured on contact at Great Kills Park ranges from 0.01 mrem/hr to 20 mrem/hr. Within a few feet of the source of contamination the gamma radiation levels found at the site drop off to normal background. Air monitoring in the park has not identified any elevated levels of radioactivity in the air. The NPS has installed fencing to restrict access to the contamination to prevent contact and signage to inform the visitors of the closed areas. The established boundaries put visitor safety, our highest priority, first.
Contractors are currently working at Great Kills Park to complete a radiological survey and to remove or continue to restrict access to areas with elevated radioactivity. By the summer of 2014, the NPS will have installed over 20,000 feet of perimeter fence, cut back vegetation and performed a gamma survey over 265 acres (or over 11.5 million square feet), and excavated approximately 40 locations of radioactive contamination which pose the greatest potential health risk.
Through the course of implementing these response actions, NPS has identified more than 200 locations of elevated radioactivity spread over the 265 acre waste filled area of the park that require follow up investigation.
Although the current actions will protect public health and the environment for the short term, the NPS has determined it is appropriate to initiate a more long term and comprehensive investigation to characterize the extent of the remaining contamination.
The CERCLA process establishes rigorous requirements by which the site is investigated, cleanup standards are identified, and alternatives are evaluated in order to ensure the permanent remedy selected will be fully protective of human health and the environment.
National Park Service
Community Involvement is a very important part of the CERCLA process. In 2011, a public information session was held and community input helped shape the development of a Community Involvement Plan (CIP) for the Great Kills Park Site. The CIP and other documents that will be considered or relied up on the in the selection of a response action for this site are part of the site's Administrative Record file. The Administrative Record is available for public review at the Great Kills Branch of the New York Public Library, 56 Giffords Lane, Staten Island.
As the NPS implements the CERCLA process, there will be many other opportunities for the public to be involved in the process. To stay informed you can:
Did You Know?
At approximately 32 square miles and over 13000 acres, Jamaica Bay is the largest natural open space in New York City.