In 1941 the Department of Defense (DOD) purchased 7,500 acres of land in Niagara County, on which was built the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works (LOOW), for the purpose of manufacturing trinitrotoluene (TNT) during World War II. The TNT production, production support, and storage areas were constructed on approximately 2,500 acres. The remaining 5,000 acres, located to the west of the production area, were left undeveloped. During World War II, the Army manufactured TNT for about 9 months at a facility on the site, which included a power plant, hospital, fire department, water supply system, and waste treatment system.
The TNT plant was decommissioned in 1943. In 1945, 5,000 acres outside the production areas were declared excess and transferred to General Service Administration for disposal to private landowners. The remaining acres were used by various government agencies. As Department of Defense operations decreased, additional property was sold. Current owners of the site include the Lewiston-Porter Schools, local and federal governments, general residential areas, and private corporations.
In the 1940s approximately 1,500 acres in the southern portion of the LOOW production area (south, from Balmer Rd.,) were transferred to the Manhattan Engineering District (MED), which later became the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and then the Department of Energy (DOE). From the 1950s to the 1980s this area was used for various activities including the production of high energy fuel, and storage of radioactive materials during the development of the atomic bomb. Of the original 1,500 acres, 191 acres is still owned by the DOE and is known as the Niagara Falls Storage Site (NFSS), while the remainder are owned by other entities and known as vicinity properties of the NFSS.
Army Corps Of Engineers Activities at the LOOW
Environmental investigations related to past federal activities at the former LOOW are the responsibility of several federal agencies. No single federal agency has overall responsibility or authority for all types of federal (as opposed to private party) contaminants on the entire former LOOW site.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is conducting environmental investigations on behalf of the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Energy (DOE). There are other Department of Defense environmental investigations on former LOOW properties which the USACE is not involved. These are discussed in more detail below.
The purpose of the USACE investigations is to determine the nature, extent, and risks to human health and the environment resulting from contamination by past federal activities at the site. USACE is not involved in addressing potential contamination from private use of the former LOOW properties or future private use of LOOW properties. USACE executes environmental investigations and cleanup actions in accordance with the process established by Congress and codified in federal law and regulations – the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Contingency Plan (NCP).
DERP-FUDS Program: Environmental investigations into the activities of the Department of Defense (DOD) are conducted in accordance with the Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP). This national program was established on 17 October 1986 to address contamination caused by defense activities. The cleanup mission for the DERP is to perform appropriate, cost-effective cleanup of contamination caused by DOD and to protect human health, public safety, and the environment.
Sites no longer owned by the DOD as of 17 October 1986, are addressed under the DERP Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) program. The U.S. Army is the executive agent responsible for the DERP-FUDS program. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) executes DERP-FUDS projects. The USACE Buffalo District is conducting DERP-FUDS projects throughout approximately 6,500 acres of the former 7,500 acre LOOW site.
Department of Energy (DOE) Investigations: Environmental investigations into activities of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and its predecessor the Department of Energy (DOE) are conducted in accordance with the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP). The FUSRAP addresses contamination resulting from the nation’s early atomic weapons program. In 1997, the United States Congress directed the USACE to execute the FUSRAP on behalf of the DOE.
Within the original footprint of the former LOOW lies the Niagara Falls Storage Site (NFSS) and related Vicinity Properties which were used during the USACE Manhattan Engineer District’s (MED) development of the nation’s early atomic weapons program. The NFSS is a federally owned temporary repository for radioactive residues and wastes from the MED. The Buffalo District is conducting a separate investigation on the NFSS for radiological contamination.