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DIGGING DEEPER: Vestal Town Square Mall parking lot contaminated with chemicals

VESTAL (WBNG) — Part of a local shopping mall bustling with business is contaminated with dangerous chemicals. The Department of Environmental Conservation took 12 News to the site at the Vestal Town Square Mall where the investigation into the contamination is still underway.

Underneath the pavement of the busy shopping center dangerous contaminants are hidden in plain sight and shoppers have no idea.

“People at risk are notified,” said Department of Environmental Conservation site manager Gary Priscott. “People here shopping are not at risk.”

Priscott said the contamination at the Vestal Town Square Mall came from just across the street.

The Lowe’s Parking lot is a brownfield site which by DEC definition is an area where contaminant levels exceed health or environmental standards.

“As far as the groundwater plume its moved from the brownfield cleanup site which is in the southwest corner of a parking lot on the other side of the street and it moves beneath the road and beneath the parking lot area beneath the Town Square Plaza,” said Priscott.

According to a DEC site record, harmful chemicals and possibly even hazardous waste were dumped there prior to redevelopment, meaning its the businesses that occupied the space before Lowe’s that are responsible for it, not Lowe’s.

The DEC cleaned up that area a few years ago, but not before contaminants moved off-site.

“We want to know where that contamination has gone and look at any of the risks as it travels with the groundwater,” Priscott told 12 News.

The DEC started investigating that in 2015, during the cleanup of the site at the Lowe’s parking lot.

Priscott said, “And that really defined a lot about where the contamination existed and the contaminant types and their concentrations.”

Four years later it’s still not done, “Now we’re doing some follow up investigation and processing that data now to figure out what we can further do to enhance the cleanup,” Priscott explained. The cleanup at the Town Square Mall hasn’t even started. “We have to nail down where exactly the contamination exists.”

The contaminants at the site are tetrachloroethene or PCE, trichloroethene known as TCE, vinyl chloride, and Cis 1 and 2 dichloroethene.

According to the Department of Health, these chemicals are linked to cancer, liver and kidney damage, reproductive and developmental effects, and nervous system toxicity when humans are exposed to them in the air over long periods of time.

While these contaminants are deep within the ground, “They can evaporate from the ground water surface and become part of the vapor in the soil matrix itself so we want to look to see where that is occurring as well,” said Priscott.

It’s called soil vapor intrusion. It happens when vapors from volatile contaminants migrate into the soil which can then enter a building.

Priscott said however, they haven’t felt a need to test air inside nearby stores.

“Department of Health in consultation with them have not had us so any indoor air sampling because of where the contamination is occurring,” he explained.

The DEC said in the meantime there is no danger to shoppers or businesses. The agency will continue to monitor sampling to determine if soil vapor intrusion becomes a threat or if there are other concerns.

“We also get migration of contaminants because of the hydrogeology of this area,” Priscott told 12 News.

Not knowing if there are other hidden dangers. “We want to investigate to know where the contaminants are,” he said.

While the groundwater at the site is contaminated, the DEC stresses that it won’t impact drinking water for residents or local businesses.

The Department of Health said there are no immediate public health concerns because the contaminants are covered by pavement.

12 news reached out to the company that owns the Town Square Mall, a representative did not wish to comment and referred us to the DEC.

We also reached out to all the stores at the mall and Lowe’s who either didn’t wish to comment or did not get back to us at this time.

Chloe Vincente

Chloe Vincente is an Evening News Anchor at 12 News.

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