TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – How dangerous is radioactive waste buried behind families’ homes at an old Town of Tonawanda landfill? Neighbors raised more questions after a News 4 Investigates report three months ago. We stayed on the story and dug through decades of records to find out how the waste got there and how serious the health threat really is.
BACKGROUND INFO | Watch or read News 4’s first report
The picture-perfect neighborhood turned upside down in the 70’s. “The lady next door got sick and passed away first, and then the lady around the corner was sick towards the end of the first lady,” he said. Then, she died, “….And then my mother got it.”
Cancer cases had then 20 year-old panicking. “You just start hearing as time went by more and more people in the old neighborhood [being sick].”
Across town environmental activist Phil Sweet saw the same thing. “They died off at an early, early age. They should be here today,” he said.
Sweet’s wife lost several of her friends. “You have to understand there’s so many people that are involved in this that have got to be hurting over this— that have lost their loved ones over this.”
Feds first found radioactive waste in 1990. So how did it get here? We obtained records through state freedom of information law.
State scientists wrote in 2007, “…This radioactive waste originated on the Linde site from the operations of the Manhattan Engineering District (MED).”
The leftovers of the first atomic bomb are buried in the Tonawanda landfill.
News 4 investigates also obtained a 1981 state report. It digs into what happened at Llinde during World War II. Authors wrote, “The army’s ‘Manhattan Project’ disposed of 37 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground wells…” between 1944 and 1946 in the Town of Tonawanda.
Gallagher read the report, too. “They pumped it into old wells that were under the plant, and that way it would disperse in the acquifer and it’d be untraceable.”
Jack Gallagher and his family moved in 2002. “This isn’t something that every single house had these problems. It might be one out of three. It might be three in a row, but the more you talk to people that grew up around here, the more you hear these stories, and it’s like holy moley, this is another one.”
For some, it’s another painful reminder of western New York paying the price for an industrial past.
Read more at Neighbors still have questions about buried radioactive waste