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Bethlehem calls off criminal probe of mercury spilll

The town's investigation into the latest mercury spill discovered at its New Salem water plant has ended no closer than where it began at the bottom of a backwash pit that hasn't been inspected in seven years.

Supervisor Jack Cunningham said the town has all but ended its investigation, which involved town police and a consultation with the FBI, into exactly how 2 to 4 tablespoons of mercury ended up on the bottom of a backwash wastewater manhole outside the water plant.

We won't officially conclude our investigation until the final test results come in, but there's no way of knowing how long the mercury has been down there," Cunningham said Friday, June 19. "We have documentation that that manhole cover was last opened seven years ago."

The Town Board authorized Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. on Wednesday, June 24, to conduct a "non criminal" investigation into mercury at the water plant to try to pinpoint a source of the spill.

Commissioner of Public Works Josh Cansler indicated that the timing was suspicious when the mercury was discovered on Thursday, May 28. Bethlehem was in the process of removing the last of its dated mercury flow meter switches from the water plant under a 2008 Department of Environmental Conservation consent order.

"The flow meters were all intact when they were removed," Canslar said after the discovery was made. "We've had no [mercury] leaks in over a year."

The mercury was seen as soon as the manhole cover was removed, according to Canslar.

Cunningham said the manhole cover was removed at the end of May because a new overhang is being constructed behind the water plant and workers were looking for underground pipes as they dug footings.

Still, with no more mercury flow meters at the plant and at least two reported mercury spills in as many years, the town's original suspicions of potential tampering are seemingly unfounded, or at the very least, cannot be proven.

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