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40 years after spill, former IBM Endicott campus still toxic

ENDICOTT (WBNG) — It’s been four decades since a spill on the former IBM campus in Endicott prompted investigations by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC said those investigations would later reveal a large plume of toxic chemicals like TCE, spanning throughout the campus and beyond. It prompted a massive cleanup effort for the groundwater, soil and a first of its kind initiaive in New York State to monitor and control soil vapor intrusion.

“It certainly was the largest response action relative to mitigation,” said DEC Director of Environmental Remediation Mike Ryan.

That spill was first reported in 1979. 40 years later, cleanup continues at the class two superfund site.

“That’s defined as a site which poses a significant threat to public health or the environment and action is required and over time we’ve taken that action,” said Ryan.

A superfund site is land contaminated with toxic chemicals. Oftentimes, the contamination is caused by industry from decades ago. In this case, the DEC points to IBM as the responsible party, as well as other companies who occupied the land before them.

At one point, the village was coined ‘The Birthplace of IBM.’ The workers, Endicott residents and entire Southern Tier were proud to have such a successful company in their own backyard.

Now, IBM has left a permanent mark in a different way.

“It’s like a scar, it doesn’t go away and the fact that it happened, it happened,” said Endicott Mayor John Bertoni. He told 12 News no one really knew the risk until it was too late. “It was a spill. We didn’t realize the magnitude to which it would seep and seek its own path and have ramifications.”

While a portion of the site still has contaminants under the ground, the DEC said the plume has shrunk significantly since remediation efforts started.

For former IBM employee and Endicott resident Mark Bacon, however, it’s far from over. “All the chemicals are underneath my building. And I’m still here 20 years later. Still have the same problem,” he said.

Bacon lives along North Street, where contamination maps the DEC gave to 12 News show contamination still exists today. He bought his property about two decades ago. Bacon said at the time, he had no idea about the contaminants under the ground.

He poured his life savings into a building he hasn’t been able to sell.

“I’m broke!” said Bacon. “And the part that really makes me mad is I have to pay taxes on this… to live on a contaminated place.”

For the past four decades the DEC has been working with IBM to remove the dangerous chemicals. “We hold polluters accountable,” said Ryan.

Years after the spill, the DEC realized the contaminants at the site could rise into the air in peoples homes. It’s called soil vapor intrusion. According to the DEC, the main chemical of concern at the site is TCE. The state health department reports on its website, exposure over long periods of time can lead to serious health effects, and there’s even a link to cancer.

For Bacon, he said it’s left him living in fear. “The stress of waking up at night and just wanting to cry because you’re stuck,” said Bacon.

He’s not the only one. Bertoni said the village has yet to recover economically from the spill, struggling to bring business back after IBM left.

“It’s been a tough sell there’s no question about that,” he said.

12 News reached out to IBM and the company hasn’t returned phone calls or emails. The DEC said IBM is cooperating and funding the continued cleanup.

The DEC continues to monitor contaminant levels and mitigate what’s left of the contamination.

Ryan said he hopes to lower it to class four in the future, meaning the majority of the contamination would be cleaned up and monitoring would be ongoing.

Chloe Vincente

Chloe Vincente is an Evening News Anchor at 12 News.

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