A Hidden Superfund Site on Experimental Road

When the beauty above hides the dangers lurking below.

  • Sunset over Cayuga Lake in upstate New York.
    Photo by Flickr/Matt MacGillivray

First impressions: Chain-link fence with barbed wire around the entire site. Front lawn mowed, back overgrown with sumac. Big ragged hole in the Powerex, Inc. Auburn, New York sign. Doors of the brick building chained shut. Eleven monitoring wells sticking out of the grass in a straight line. Empty flagpoles. White guard house, fenced. Shiny padlock. No trespassing. Emergency contact: a name, a number. No Superfund signage posted. Little box houses across the street, nicely maintained. Health club right next door.

Seven more monitoring wells on the southwestern edge of the parking lot. A little boy with his father, learning. His big-boy bike: a two-wheeler, no training wheels. Fat Huffy wheels crossing faded yellow lines, weeds pushing through cracks in the asphalt. Wispy clouds gently fading into a high-noon summer sky.

The boy on the bike pedals and wobbles, but isn’t looking back. Trusts his father is right behind him, trusts his father is keeping him safe. Circling unsteadily in this abandoned lot with his father following close. No one else around except a woman in a car, recording her impressions.

I’m suddenly conscious of my own presence, my rental car, my notebook. I am not in Auburn on official business. I no longer have any official business. So why this need to explore and record?


Years before, my husband and I brought our 2-year-old daughter to visit his parents for a month in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York, on Cayuga Lake between Auburn and Seneca Falls. I was pregnant with our youngest child and had just dropped the “working” from working mom, as if the two can be divorced. I had been an environmental regulator for the State of Connecticut, overseeing the investigation and remediation of contaminated sites.

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