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DEC fines Bethlehem for 2006 and 2008 mercury spills

The Department of Environmental Conservation has fined the town of Bethlehem $15,000 for mercury and petroleum reporting and handling violations that occurred over the last two years.

The town is now replacing all of its mercury flow meters in town.

The DEC said three separate investigations took place at Bethlehem's New Salem Road plant, spokeswoman Maureen Wren said in February. The investigations dealt with two mercury spills, one that occurred on Jan. 18 of this year, another from July 2006, and the removal of an underground fuel-oil tank " all in or around the town's New Scotland plant.

The fuel tank was taken from the ground on town-owned property near the plant.

Supervisor Jack Cunningham questioned why the DEC suddenly announced Bethlehem was paying the fine when the incident had already been hashed out months ago.

"We don't know why all of a sudden the DEC issued a release on this," Cunningham said. "We have voluntarily replaced the meters. These flow meters are being used all across New York State and the DEC has not required any of them to be replaced."

Rick Georgeson, a spokesman for Region 4, responded through Spotlight Newspapers, saying, "The consent order was just signed this week. It took a while to conduct the investigation."

Cunningham emphasized that absolutely no contaminates reached the town's water supply, not mercury or petroleum.

The DEC agreed and said no mercury was found in the water supply but said they fined the town for not properly reporting the mercury spills. The town also did not properly dispose of an old fuel-oil tank near the plant on town-owned property, according to DEC Region 4 Director Gene Kelly.

"DEC Region 4 law enforcement staff worked diligently in following leads, interviewing witnesses and compiling the facts of this case," Kelly said in a release. "The town recognized the continued risk posed by the mercury gauges and switches at the plant and agreed to replace all of them at a cost of $258,000 over the next year."

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