Saturday, February 25, 2023

Remembering the Atomic Project, and the hydrochloric acid incident of 1956

Red wing blackbird

More spring-like weather this week, [with] temperatures up to 51 [degrees] on Wednesday, [February 15], and I had a Red Wing Blackbird at the feeder. Then it was up to 49 [degrees] on Thursday, [February 16] with some rain and snow late in the day. Friday, [February 17] I went to Utica and the temperature was 35 [degrees] all the way down, with wet snow falling. [I] got my truck serviced and headed home and it was still 35 degrees there, but went down to 22 [degrees] by the time I hit Old Forge. [There was] no rain or snow [at the time], just a trace overnight, but the temperature zipped down to 10 [degrees]. That brought the Evening Grosbeaks into the feeder that morning and I banded eight before we went to the Chili Bowl [Luncheon] at View.

[There] was a crowd and I had to park across the street. [There were] lots of beautiful bowls, and we picked out three and got in line to pay for the bowls and some chili. We found a table right up front close to the chili action which went on until I heard they ran out. Many tried more than one variety. I stuck with the mac and cheese and the mild chili, which was very good. [I] saw lots of new people and visited with many others, some who had never been to this event before. [There were] lots of good desserts [as well] and I even won a poster in the raffle that went on all afternoon. The tables were full most of the time and some [people were] still coming in as we left at 2 p.m. I hope they got some chili. If you missed getting a bowl, I’m sure you could find one if you asked at the [front] desk. You [may want to consider getting] a membership while you’re there, so you can enjoy all the programs at View.


I mentioned the train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio which was getting very little press at that time, even [considering] all the dangerous chemicals that were spilled and some burning onsite. Since that time, I’ve seen it on several news programs and people in that area are getting some of their concerns answered. The train company, Norfolk Southern, has paid out over 1.5 million to about 1,000 families who were displaced by the wreck ($1,000 each.) Vinyl chloride was the dangerous substance that was in several of the derailed cars, and some burned onsite, putting dangerous chemicals into the air. Some of the runoff into neighboring streams killed the fish there.

Chili bowl

Chili bowl. Photo by Gary Lee.

The company says they have contained and collected most of that runoff that went into storm sewers. This, of course, is being questioned by residents who live in that area. The town says the public water supply was not affected. The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] has been on the ground testing air, water, and ground samples around the site. Some residents have come down with rashes and breathing symptoms from the air around the site. Vinyl chloride is used to make PVC. PVC is used to make plastic products, including pipes, wire, and cable coatings and packaging material. It breaks down into hydrochloric acid, chloride, and carbon dioxide in water and soil.


While growing up in West Milton near Ballston Spa, the federal government bought several farms west of where we lived [in] 1954. [They] built the Atomic Project which was a large metal ball filled with water that had an atomic submarine inside where the navy trained sailors. They used water from the Glowegee Creek which ran right by the ball (to fill the ball) and they also used the water to cool the heat produced inside the ball…so I was told. One day in 1956 someone turned the wrong valve, and they dumped a large amount of hydrochloric acid directly into the creek. My dad took water samples daily from the creek to be tested for pollutants for the federal government.


Somehow, we heard about the spill and went down to the creek, which was just down the road from our house. Dead fish were floating everywhere, and larger fish were nearly stripped of their skin and trying to swim. We netted several large brown trout that were half dead before we were kicked out of the stream. The stream ran through the Lewis Farm where their cows drank the water, but we never heard about any problems with the cows. This was about four miles downstream from the discharge, so it was getting diluted as it came that distance. The fish kill ended, as it went through the farm property and never reached where the Glowegee ran into the Kayaderosseras Creek a mile downstream. The government restocked the stream with trout, but other bait fish and suckers took a long time to repopulate the stream. I’m sure some birds and animals that ate the fish that died from the acid also died, but that was never checked on…that I know of.


Last weekend was the Big Backyard Bird Count 17-20, and you could count the birds at your feeder or take a hike on a trail somewhere and count the birds you hear and see while on the hike. You can send in these reports to E-bird and add to the totals around the world. I had 10 new red wing blackbirds show up on Sunday, so they made the count. [It is] early for them to come north, but with this weather,  you never know what you might see out there.


Maybe winter will return for Inlet’s Frozen Fire and Lights [event] this weekend, but that’s another story. See ya.


Photo at top: Red wing blackbird. Photo by Gary Lee.

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Gary lives with his wife, Karen, at Eight Acre Wood in Inlet where he was the Forest Ranger for 35 years, working in the Moose River Wild Forest Recreation Area and West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. Now retired, Gary works summers for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, observing, catching and banding loons. The author of a column Daybreak to Twilight in local papers from 1986 to 2019, he now writes his Outdoor Adventures a weekly blog. In 2008, Gary coauthored a book with John M.C. “Mike” Peterson, "Adirondack Birding- 60 Great Places to Find Birds."

15 Responses

  1. Herb says:

    Just a note to give detail about the D1G containment dome (metal ball). It was never filled with water. It was designed to contain the explosive forces of a liquid sodium reactor. It was supposed to be a dry, empty space. However, atmospheric conditions inside sometimes made it wet from condensation. The sodium reactor idea was scrapped and a navy submarine reactor with the
    propulsion plant was ultimately installed inside the containment.
    The plant was cooled by cooling towers that received make-up water from the creek.

  2. Skip says:

    While working for DEC Region 5 from 1974 to 1976 conducting water sampling, I routinely had to collect water samples from Glowegee Creek. In addition to the Navy plant issue, there were concerns that PCB’s from abandoned utility transformers were leaking and getting into the creek.

  3. Joe Kozlina says:

    As for the train derailment and explosion in East Palistine Ohio. I live 6 miles north east of the town and was exposed to Dioxin fallout from the controlled burn. At a town meeting on Feb 24th, Erin Brockovich was present and I attended. We got alot of truthful information much different from the officials, who are falling way short of acceptable conduct dealing with the spill and cleanup. We are told the affects will last from 10 to 50 years, by her team, depending where you live and what type of fallout occured on your property. The towns people got the brunt of the disaster but a 20 mile plume floated over parts of Ohio and Pa. Norfolk Southern is doing the very least to clean up the town. We were told the calvary is not coming and it will be up the the citizens of this area to deal with this for my life time left on this planet. I am 64 years old.Who knows what has happened to the bird, fish, deer, raccoon, fox and unknown species of animal who flew, walked, swam or are eating the contaminated grass and water as we speak. As far as the public water supply, the chemicals have not yet reached the towns wells yet but it undoubtly will. Because of the towns location and soil make up it is expected to reach them in a few weeks. Many people sick. This is just the beginning of the illnesses. Dioxin is a byproduct of the burning of the vinyl chloride. It is a carcinogen.

  4. Rob Bick says:

    The train incident in Ohio is interesting, and tragic. My brother, who has property on Sixberry Lake up in the Redwood area, noticed a slight orange tint underneath the ice layer after the latest storm while clearing snow. Is it possible some of that plume blew to the northeast and was deposited through precipitate?

    That is also a bit curious.

  5. Boreas says:

    The derailment is a tragedy that was simply a matter of time and place. As terrible as it is, even more concerning is that it could happen again today and yet again tomorrow anywhere in the US. Ancient infrastructure, safety deregulation, and our love of plastics and other materials manufactured with toxic chemicals create the setting for these tragedies – and a roll of the dice determines the time and location. It will be years, if not decades, before the environmental and human toll of the derailment can be fully assessed.

    The shipping industry comes under attack for neglect, while the manufacturers and pushers of these toxic chemicals continue to glean record profits DAILY. Think Big Oil and Big Chemical. The shipping industry may be the gun, but these uncaring manufacturers provide the ammunition. As long as shippers take the blame and citizens and Nature incur the damage, they sit back and continue to rake in the profits unimpeded – with a good chunk of those profits being funneled to industry-friendly politicians ensuring their continued complicity.

    Governments and industry accept such collateral damage as inevitable, despite “thoughts and prayers” and water bottles handed out at every disaster site. Inconceivably, US citizens are OK with this until a disaster occurs in their vicinity affecting their health and well-being, let alone damage to the environment. Then they are jarred awake.

    Fate rolls these dice every day at every rail crossing and locality. What is the answer? Industry regulation? Corporate liability? Infrastructure upgrades? Or should we be taking a serious look at society’s insatiable demand for plastics, chemicals, fuels, and other substances deemed “necessary” for modern life? I can’t provide the answers, but for now, all I can do is watch the tanker cars cruise by a quarter-mile away from my porch – literally on the shore of Lake Champlain. Roll the dice! Do YOU feel lucky today?

  6. seymour preston jr. says:

    Dear Gary; why do you not have your truck serviced locally? That seem’s so unlike you!

  7. louis curth says:

    The value of the Explorer/Almanack lies in the opportunity it offers to learn from informed contributors like Gary Lee, and to share our own opinions and experiences, if we choose to, for the consideration of readers who care about this wonderful place.

    In short, this forum invites us to look past our differences, and see how and where we might be able to work together for the good of all. The health & safety issues discussed here are exhibit A:

    Could the on-going rail disaster at East Palestine, Ohio have been avoided if we had fixed the problems exposed after 47 people died in a similar rail disaster in 2013, just north of us in Quebec? This damaging report should concern all of us…

  8. Sherri B. says:

    I live in Etna, NY (near Ithaca) and have 4 bird feeders (white safflower to deter the squirrels but there’s still one that comes every day). The birds were eating me out of house and home this year, unlike any other year. I was filling all 4 every day and going through at least 10 pounds a week. Then all of a sudden around Feb 8th (the fire that was intentionally set that caused the plume was set on Feb 6th) not a bird at my feeders for days. I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb 17-20 and barely had any birds to report. I hike a trail called the Black Diamond Trail in Ithaca every day (lots of trees and small waterfalls) – not a bird in sight for days. Finally on Feb 23rd started seeing a few more birds at my feeders, and some doves finally and finally mr squirrel came back. And I saw 7 flocks of geese flying overhead on the trail and started seeing birds again.

    This has been equated to Agent Orange at Camp Lejeune only far worse.

  9. louis curth says:

    CORRECTION – try this for NYT story on 2013 Lac-Megantic, Quebec rail disaster.

  10. louis curth says:

    Sherri B., Your reply from out near Ithaca is disturbing, but hardly surprising. Many of us, who have been around a while, can recall a litany of avoidable events which often corrode our worldview. The revelations about DDT, the health risks covered up at Love Canal, the Acid rain destruction of Adirondack waters, the PCB contamination of the Hudson River and so much more. Rachel Carson raised the alarm in 1962 in her book “Silent Spring”, yet the Palestine, Ohio horror stories just keep on coming….

    For those of us who care about the future, such events can be a call to action, For too many others, they nourish cynicism and sow seeds of distrust that undermine our ability to care.

    WE NEED TO CARE! And we need to work together as a community, and elect leaders who are committed to American democracy, the rule of law, and the needs of its people above all.

    “The capacity to care is the thing which gives life its greatest significance.”
    Pablo Casals

  11. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “What is the answer? Industry regulation?”

    >Tell that to the ‘deregulation’ crowd Boreas!

  12. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Re-regulation deregulation what does it matter? The train crash in East Palestine is one answer to that query. You and I know who are the ones who push for deregulation Boreas. They are not the kind of people who have futurity in mind.

  13. William B Hall says:

    As children we would go swimming behind the West Milton Cemetery and down by the bridge. So it must have been around 1956-1959. We were always told not to drink any of the water because atomic chemicals and radiation could be present. So after all these years I now learn what the real issue was. No one that I knew had any health problems as a result of swimming.
    We lived on the corner of Root road and Hop City Road when my dad worked at the Atomic Ball as it was called. He was I believe a maintenance man. He worked night shift around this time frame, late 50s . He came home late at night, there had been some kind of accident of much concern he asked my grand mother to call Ketchum’s hardware store and see if my dad could purchase tar to repair something I have no idea what happened. My grandmother said see saw a flash of light coming from the direction of the Atomic Ball. Was their some kind of serious explosion during this time period. This whole thing has been a mystery to me all these years.

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