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Ithaca restricts access to Ithaca Falls amid lead concerns

Samuel Whitehead
This is now the closest view you can get of the Ithaca Falls.


Ithaca Falls is a popular spot. People come to see the falls, wade in, and fish. It’s there that Fall Creek takes its final plunge before flowing into Cayuga Lake.

But a recent discovery has cut off access to this beloved space. Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found something concerning: lead.

Nels Bohn, director of the city of Ithaca’s Urban Renewal Agency, said that early testing is preliminary. He also said that some composite samples “have measurements above 400 parts per million of lead” within 25 feet of the gorge wall.

According to Bohn, that amount is the city’s cleanup objective goal for the Ithaca Gun Overlook site. On top of the gorge wall is the site of the former Ithaca Gun Factory. It’s been the focus of a number of environmental remediations. The EPA, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and a number of private developers have worked for 15 years to clean up lead there.

After working on the factory site, the next step was to look at the bottom of the gorge, where the EPA found the contamination. Until those results are confirmed, the city has restricted access to the gorge.

Credit Samuel Whitehead / W
There's a barricade up to keep people from Fall Creek gorge and Ithaca Falls.

“The major concern is direct physical contact with the soils,” said Bohn, of the city’s concern for people who visit the falls. “If there is direct contact with the soils closest to the gorge wall, [people] should thoroughly wash their hands, their shoes, and their clothes.”

The city gave no timeline for when the EPA’s results might be confirmed or when the falls might reopen.