The cleanup at the Agfa-Peerless Photo Products site in Shoreham reached a milestone recently when all the physical removal of contaminated material was completed, and final testing was done.
According to Agfa representative Charlene Graff, the removal of soils and remediation was completed over a month ago, and the cleaned areas were tested for safety.
“The preliminary test results are good,” she said.
Levels of cadmium and other chemicals that were dumped on the grounds from the photo emulsion processing conducted on the site years ago led to it being placed on a list of places requiring cleanup under the supervisions of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).
The Agfa staff will be working on writing the reports that describe the completed work and test results over the next six weeks, and plan to send the reports for review by the DEC and the state and county health departments.
These agencies will examine the reports, and make recommendations for changes, clarifications, or improvements in the reports. When all of the paperwork is done, the DEC will release the site from its list of contaminated sites and allow Agfa to make a decision as to its future use. This process could take several months. There will be ongoing monitoring for years of several places on the property where remediation included stabilization of soils, resulting in restrictions on the future use for some of the land.
Graff said the company plans to remove some of the remaining buildings on the site: the wastewater treatment plant, the administration building, and the old white house facing Route 25A are slated for demolition due to asbestos and structural issues. These activities do not require the oversight of the DEC. Additional structures on the site may also be removed after assessment of their safety and usefulness.
On May 18, Graff and Girish Desai of the DEC conducted a brief tour of the property for New York State Assemblyman Mark Alessi, Brookhaven Councilman Kevin McCarrick and their assistants.
“We walked the property and were shown where work had been done,” said John Kreutz, assistant to McCarrick. “They’re doing an assessment of what the place is worth.”
“They are looking to find out what the property is worth,” agreed Kaitlin Boyd, chief of staff for Alessi. “They said it was a unique property in a residential area. There is nothing to compare it to, and it is hard to come up with a price.”
Peter Scully, regional director of the DEC, was also on the tour of the grounds.
“The good news is that the cleanup of the site has followed the plan,” said Scully.
“What remains to be seen is how the property will be treated as a real estate asset. I’m interested in how the plans of town and other public officials who have shown an interest in its future will play out.”
The property is the site of scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla’s turn-of-the-century laboratory. Tesla’s lab, a 94’x94’ square brick building, was designed by his friend, renowned architect Stanford White. The brick building still stands. Also on the site is the remains of the base of Tesla’s 187-foot tower that was intended to be a wireless transmissions tower. The tower was demolished in 1917 when Tesla encountered financial difficulties.
The tower base was one of the places where contamination remediation caused particular problems. The base was originally dug 120 feet down. After the tower was removed, subsequent occupants of the property used the large hole in the ground for dumping unwanted material, some of it hazardous. Agfa and the DEC arranged for the tower base contamination to be stabilized through injecting a cement-like slurry into the area that solidified the soil and discarded material, and prevents any spread of contamination.
As to the future disposition of the property, many suggestions have been made, among them a plan to convert the Tesla laboratory into a science museum and Tesla archive.
Friends of Science East, a local group, has been following the cleanup for over ten years, while maintaining contact with Agfa, in hopes of realizing their goal of the museum.
“We envision a Tesla Science Center that brings the excitement of science to the people of Long Island. That excitement drove people like Tesla at the dawn of our modern age of electricity and communication, and it is very much alive on Long Island today,” said Chris Wesselborg, secretary of FSE.
“Tesla’s laboratory in Shoreham is an important historic landmark. It testifies to his fundamental contributions to some of our key technologies. What better way to celebrate Long Island’s heritage than with a regional science and technology center and museum at that site,” he said.
Tesla was the developer and inventor of the alternating current induction motor, neon lighting, radio wave remote-controlled devices, and the formative patents for radio, Tesla was declared to be the “father of radio” by the Supreme Court, his patents superseding Guglielmo Marconi’s. The Shoreham laboratory, called Wardenclyffe, was planned by Tesla to be the center of his World Wireless System, where he planned to send wireless communications and to transmit energy without wires.
No decision has been made by Agfa regarding the future use of the site. One potential owner is a coalition of the state and town.
“We’re not going to make any decisions until all the paperwork is done and the state (DEC) signs off on it,” said Graff.
“First I want to be sure the cleanup is done properly. I want to see the reports,” said Alessi. “I really think the site is of historic significance, and I would like to see the Tesla building preserved.”
“I would like to hear from the community about what the property should become overall,” he said. “There is so much history surrounding what Tesla has done there in terms of electrical experiments. Shoreham has a legendary past, this is part of it, and I don’t want to see that lost,” said Alessi.
“I’m happy we’re at the point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel regarding the remediation process. Now maybe the town get together with Agfa to begin a negotiation process,” said McCarrick.
“Everybody [on the tour] was in agreement to take whatever steps were necessary to preserve the historic Stanford White-designed laboratory. This property has the potential to become an education center and to be a testimony to Nikola Tesla’s legacy on Long Island,” said Kreutz.