2011-01-05 / Front Page

City: Gamma Radiation At Ridgewood Building Is Harmless


City Department of Health (DOH) inspectors have located a remnant from the Manhattan Project at a Ridgewood commercial building where traces of radioactive material was processed during World War II, officials said.

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, confirmed the DOH findings and assured reporters that the material is not dangerous.

Giordano said, “The building was a site for the Manhattan Project in the 1940s and there is radioactive pollution at the site. From what we can tell, the material found at the site is not a significant risk to workers that are currently working there or to the surrounding community,” Giordano said.

The Manhattan Project was the code name for a secret military project that developed atomic weapons during WWII that utilized sites throughout the five boroughs, a Queens Historical Society spokesperson said.

The building at 11-27 and 11-20 Irving Ave. in Ridgewood, currently occupied by auto repair shops and an iron works shop, was the original home of the Wolff Airport Chemical Corporation during WWII, the spokesperson said.

When America joined the Allies in the early 1940s, Wolff Chemical was one of many firms asked by the government to assist in the war effort. Queens held a major role in the Manhattan Project, which farmed out work throughout the borough in an effort to keep its secrets from being stolen.

Wolff Chemical went into the business of extracting minerals and the radioactive element “thorium” from the substance monazite, a DOH spokesperson said. 

Workers at the plant disposed of the Thorium by flushing it into area sewers until the Atlantic Energy Commission put the brakes on the practice in 1947. The thorium was then stored in solid form and sold to the government.

Testing performed in the 1970s showed the building did not exceed the legal limit for thorium, city health officials said. Tests performed in 2007 revealed a spike in radioactivity at the site and tests performed in 2009 revealed abnormal levels of gamma radiation in sewers outside the building, which led to more intensive testing of the site, including pile driving to test ground water and a series of tests conducted inside the building.

In a statement released by DOH upon completion of the tests, officials said, “There were no immediate health concerns to members of the public, including workers, residents and clients of the businesses on the site.”


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