Work seems to be proceeding in earnest to demolish – once and for all – the grim remains of the Nepera Chemical Company plant in Harriman, New York. Opened in 1942 and closed in 2005, the Nepera Plant was once an important economic engine in the area, employing hundreds and producing the modern miracles upon which America grew – herbicides, pesticides and other industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals. At one point, Nepera was the second largest producer of pyridine – a chemical commonly found in solvents, pesticides and even anti-dandruff shampoo.
On the day we were there, a small crew fitted with particle respirators could be seen performing the god-awful task of surveying and demolishing an endless network of pipes, tanks, buildings and smoke stacks spread across almost 30 acres. Out of sight, but very much in mind, the six “lagoons” where factory workers dumped upwards of 50,000 gallons of chemical and sewage waste each day. The Nepera plant is a Superfund site, the EPA’s program to clean up hazardous environmental sites, and has been in the clean-up stage since at least 1974 when the lagoons were filled in.
For many in the Harriman area, especially parents with children in the Monroe-Woodbury schools, the final days of the Nepera plant could not come soon enough. For years they have lived with the ever-present – and entirely reasonable – fear that the plant was responsible for higher than normal rates of cancer in their community (you can read the findings of a New York State Department of Health study here). While the results of the study were somewhat ambiguous (higher rates of some cancers in some people and lower rates in others), one thing is certain. Legislators and citizens must be made aware of all health hazards – known and potential – before building anything that can create this much damage to living creatures and our fragile, irreplaceable environment.