North Country aluminum giant Alcoa to lay off 500 in Massena and seal its toxins in riverbed – by Brian Nearing (Albany Times Union – November 9, 2015)

Massena – An aluminum smelting plant that has operated on the shores of the St. Lawrence River for more than a century is closing, taking with it hundreds of good-paying jobs in the North Country.

But while last week’s announcement by Alcoa means jobs will be lost, a troubled environmental legacy will linger at its sprawling, 2,700-acre Massena Plant at the Canadian border in St. Lawrence County.

Alcoa touts the plant, first opened in 1902, as the longest continually operating aluminum smelter in the world; since the 1950s, the plant has relied on a flood of cut-rate state hydropower provided by the New York Power Authority.

Last week, Pittsburgh-based Alcoa announced it was abandoning plans to modernize its Massena East Plant mothballed two years ago — formerly owned by Reynolds aluminum — and will close its newer Massena West Plant by the first quarter of 2016, throwing 500 people out of work. Smaller facilities at Massena for aluminum casting, forging and extrusions will remain in operation.

Alcoa’s property includes 16 separate state Superfund pollution sites covering more than 230 acres — the equivalent of nearly three Empire State Plazas. Most were tainted by PCBs, with one area containing a foot-thick layer of dense liquid PCBs capable of tainting groundwater all the way to bedrock.

Eleven of those sites, including the plant’s landfill, where many toxins cleaned from around the property over the years have been dumped, will require environmental monitoring indefinitely, according to DEC records from the Environmental Site Remediation Database.

For years, the company dumped PCBs and other chemicals on its property and into the river, leading state health officials in 1990 to ban the eating of any fish in any amount from either river.

Now, plans are moving ahead for a federally ordered, quarter-billion-dollar dredging project for more than seven miles of the nearby Grasse River, which flows into the St. Lawrence. Dredging is expected to begin in late 2017 or early 2018.

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