Bethlehem calls off criminal probe of mercury spilll

The town's drinking water has been cleared by the Albany County Department of Health.

The original decision to remove the old mercury flow meters as a result of a consent order issued last June by the DEC that was the result of three separate investigations into incidents at the site involving the release of mercury and petroleum, as well as reporting violations.

In February 2008, DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren announced the investigations and said Bethlehem's water supply was tested by the state and the town and found to be clear of contaminants.

A year ago this month, the DEC fined the town $15,000 for "mercury and petroleum reporting and handling violations" that occurred over the two previous years. Cunningham said at the time the town only consented to the fine because it couldn't prove that less than a pound of mercury had been discharged in a single spill at its water plant, which is the state's threshold for reporting such a spill.

By paying the $15,000 and remaining compliant, which the town has done by removing all of the mercury switches by this June, Bethlehem did not have to pay an additional $60,000 civil penalty to the DEC, according to the state's signed consent order.

In 2008, Albany County Sheriff's deputy Gary Fish said he was fired by the town after he spoke out about the mercury spill at the town's water plant, but town officials said he was fired because of repeated scheduling conflicts and would not comment further because the incident is a "personnel matter."

Fish, who patrolled the Vly Creek Reservoir for 12 years, alleges there were inaccuracies in terms of the amount of mercury spilled at the plant in the report given to the public by Cansler in February 2008. He stated workers were constantly put at risk by "having to track through mercury for two years."

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