in August of 2019 I set out on a weekend road trip with my good friend Freaktography. We head across the boarder into the United States with several locations to explore as well the plan of sleeping inside an abandoned insane asylum! One of the locations on our list was an abandoned steel mill which we had known about for many years but never took the time to actually get over there & explore it. That was about to change!
The plant dates back to the early 1900`s when operations moved from Chicago to Lockport where the plant would be powered cheap electricity being produced by nearby Niagara Falls. The first steel produced at the new plant was in January of 1911. 11 years later the company changed its name to Simonds Saw and Steel Company & had approximately 2,200 employees. After just 25 years they stopped producing saws all together.
Between 1946 & 1956 the plant rolled two radioactive materials, uranium & thorium, on a nine-acre portion of the 70-acre site for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The company rolled uranium billets into rods that were shipped off-site via rail cars. Some 25 million & 35 million pounds of natural uranium metal & approximately 30,000 to 40,000 of thorium metal were processed at the site, according to an Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) fact sheet.
The production of uranium metal for fabrication into slugs for fueling Hanford production reactors. Simonds also rolled thorium metal whose most likely use was irradiation in Hanford reactors for the weapons program.
During all operations from 1948 through 1956, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was responsible for providing radiological monitoring & safety guidance and assistance. Residue from the operation was returned to the AEC or NLO. The DOE’s Niagara Falls Storage Site (formerly Lake Ontario Ordnance Works) was used for interim storage of the materials between processing operations and use. Protective measures employed at the site included the use of hoods & dust collection equipment over the 16-inch rolling mill stands, & catch pans in the mill pits to collect material from each rolling operation. The mill area was vacuumed after every batch of 16 ingots, & the shipping area was vacuumed daily.
Area decontamination was performed, clean steel plates placed over the area, and a second radiological survey was performed in December 1958 to verify decontamination was effective. In October 1976, at the request of DOE Headquarters, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) performed another radiological survey to determine the status of the property relative to current radiological release guidelines. The ORNL survey revealed that most of the residual contamination remaining from the uranium and thorium rolling operations was confined to the areas inside & immediately outside of Buildings 6 & 8.
In August 1982, GSSC filed for Chapter 11 (bankruptcy) protection & in March 1984 Allegheny International (now known as Allegheny Ludlum Corporation) bought out the assets of the GSSC. The purchase by Allegheny Ludlum Corporation included the entire site with the exception of two regions, classified as the excised property and the landfill. The excised property is approximately 3.6 hectares (ha [ 9 acres]), consists of a chain-link fenced area which surrounds all of the buildings that existed during the rolling operations from 1948 through 1956, and includes the adjacent exterior land areas. The landfill region was originally owned and used by Simonds Saw & Steel Company from 1962 to 1978, and was subsequently owned and used by GSSC from 1978 to 1980. The landfill area was used for the disposal of slag, baghouse flue dust, foundry sand, waste oils and greases, and miscellaneous plant rubbish. The landfill is not lined or covered, and although its surface has been regraded, ponding occurs and surface runoff is uncontrolled. The landfill region is currently a New York State superfund site.
Since 2012, ACE has been monitoring the groundwater below the site, groundwater seeping into the Erie Canal and canal surface water. Since the groundwater there is not potable, the ACE stated, there is no risk to human health. Although some groundwater seeps into the Erie Canal have shown uranium levels slightly exceeding the (maximum contaminant levels, the uranium would be significantly diluted by waters of the canal,” reads the ACE fact sheet. “Even at that undiluted level, it should not have an adverse impact to someone using the water for recreational (not drinking water) purposes. Although, potential lifetime cancer risks & yearly radiological dose rates received by someone trespassing in Building 8 (for 4 hours a week for 6 months out of the year for 10 years) could exceed acceptable targets, the actual radiological doses received by the Corps & contractor investigators in that building were below health and safety monitoring detection limits,” an ACE fact sheet said.
Today the plant sits rotting away & in terrible shape. Fences have fallen down & it`s not uncommon to see several deer while on the grounds & even inside the buildings. There are numerous class actions for former workers to receive compensation for both asbestos & radiation related diseases & although the plant is contaminated, it posed no risk to my health. There are plans to cleanup the site sometime starting in 2020. This was really an amazing explore that held quite a bit on interesting history.