The history of this Chemical plant in Harriman reads like a painfully predictable movie script about a Big Bad Chemical Company near a Quaint Little Town where residents claim abnormally high cancer rates. Situated almost comically close to the local well and a school, the plant began operations in 1942 and was widely despised until its closing in 2005. It manufactured “pharmaceutical chemicals and intermediate chemicals used in herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals,” the waste of which was dubiously disposed of on-site.
From 1953-1967, the plant dumped their chemical and sewage waste in state-sanctioned “lagoons,” which were part of the site’s nearly 30 acres. The two original lagoons eventually expanded to six large shit puddles, each measuring 180 feet long, 70 feet wide and 6 feet deep.
A Bing Maps ariel shot of the plant today (above) and what is now the empty fields where the lagoons were (below)
Leaks in the lagoons were discovered in ’58 and ‘60, which were situated a mere 800 feet from the Maybrook Well Field, OF COURSE. However, the use of the lagoons didn’t stop until ’67. By ’74, all the lagoons had been filled in with dirt, which of course became toxic and the property was fenced in to prevent the spreading of the contaminated soil.
By the 1980’s, the plant was the nation’s second largest producer of pyridine, a chemical (composed of 10 other chemicals, some of which were toxic) used in pesticides, solvents and anti-dandruff shampoo. (Everyone knows there’s crazy shit in shampoo, but if you want to read some delightful nonsense, try reading the labels on a Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap shampoo bottle.)
They also made niacin/B3- a food additive- just because of course they did. Some of it was used to enhance pet food, and some of it used in human food.
In 1984, an industrial gas leak in India, known as the Bhopal disaster, caused the immediate deaths of almost 4,000 people, the eventual deaths of around 16,000 and over half a million injuries. The incident led to an overhaul of environmental legislation, creating the Superfund Amendment Reauthorization Act, or, SARA, which required chemical plants to disclose specifics about their pollutants to the community.
Nepera struggled to comply with SARA, since it required extensive extra hours, finances, employees and paperwork the company was ill-equipped to handle. The company spent the next few decades under constant (yet legitimate) scrutiny. In 1991, three substantial drums of contaminates were discovered buried in the back where the lagoons had been located. In 2000, a school a mile away was shut down twice over reports of nausea, dizziness and rashes after a leak at the plant released toxic pyridine fumes. 2002 saw a change of ownership, but the plant was abandoned by 2005.
Two years after the plant closed, the property was purchased by the ambiguously named Commercial Development Company Inc, which is what I’d name a company as a joke if I were the kind of asshole who enjoyed playing those tedious German board games where you buy land and build stuff and get in verbal kerfuffles over property lines. I don’t understand the appeal. I’m no board game purist, but if it isn’t Sorry or Mousetrap, I ain’t playin’ it!
CDC is a company that purchases/clears/develops/re-sells environmentally unstable and/or otherwise difficult property. Their past purchases reads like a laundry list of reasons why there are holes in the ozone layer: Kaiser Aluminum, Millennium Chemicals, Reeves Chemicals, Alpha Cement, Armco Steel, etc…and my favorites: Fruit-of-the-Loom, Kraft General Foods and the United States Treasury. This was a totally unnecessary and slightly misleading tangent. Moving along…
In 2011, the EPA ordered an extensive cleaning of the site, including the removal of toxic soil and treatment of the groundwater. 83,000 tons of contaminated dirt had been removed by 2012, and the groundwater was continually monitored. As of 2014, the site remains abandoned.
Old railroad racks outside the plant along the fence.
We kept joking that the biohazard suits and the way the floor has peeled make it look as though the people vaporized in a chemical explosion, but in reality, they were most likely placed this way by an explorer before us.
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