Public Lab Research note

The Most Radioactive Place in New York City

by eymund | May 14, 2014 21:25 14 May 21:25 | #10472 | #10472

eymund was awarded the Basic Barnstar by Hudonnoodles for their work in this research note.

What I want to do

Share Information about a radioactive site in Ridgewood, Queens

Liz Barry just shared a fascinating video about a former thorium factory in Queens, New York's latest addition to the Superfund cleanup process.

What can the Public Lab community research process find out about the site ?

A good clue for finding the forgotten stories in maps: look for the crooked streets.


courtesy of The New Yorker Interactive

The question is asked: why does Cooper Avenue suddenly angle off the typical New York City square grid ?

Historical maps often give clues.

My attempt and results

This 1897 United States Geological Survey Map shows the geography of the area before the Wolff Alpert chemical factory was built. The dark contour lines indicate the Long Island glacial moraine ridge on which the Ridgewood Water Reservoir was built. This used to supply water to Queens residents. The sharp wiggles in the contour are often indicative of glacial moraine springs found near the moraine ridges. You can observe a small pond on the map that may have been fed by such a spring.


Cooper Avenue most likely curved to bypass the steep moraine ridge slope and the pond.

This pond seems to have been connected to the main Ridgewood Reservoir by an aqueduct.

1904 Long Island Waterworks Map


Questions and next steps

What happened to the historical pond (and maybe creek bed?) that was next to a factory with a history of dumping radioactive sludge down the drains ?

What are the implications for pollution migration through a connected system of sewers and aqueducts ? What about waste disposal and spills via the historical rail line ?


Can Grassroots Mappers more precisely identify the extent of landfilled areas through high resolution DIY aerial photography ?

The Google aerial is really great. But could better resolution give us clues to how the landscape was changed over the last century ?


Why I'm interested

Building research linkages between the City Superfund sites.

The True Agenda: finding the birthplace of the Gowanus Mutant Ninja Turtles.


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