Concerned Citizens of Seneca County meets at the Seneca County Office Bldg., 1 Di Pronio Drive, Waterloo, NY, 6:30 PM, 2nd & 4th Wednesdays, Office for the Aging. By invitation only. E-mail us for an invite using the address at the bottom of this page.
Located in West-central New York State, the Finger Lakes region is normally thought of as a tourist destination, boasting rolling hills, gorges, waterfalls, parks, picturesque farms, water sports of all kinds, world-renowned (100+) wineries/vineyards and, of course, its lakes, shaped like the fingers on a hand, that were carved out by glaciers at the end of the last ice age. (See example Finger Lake at right, and note our logo, top left, showing Seneca County stretching north and south between two of these Finger Lakes.)
Why we're concerned: Billion dollar landfill companies are assaulting the Finger Lakes region of New York State—i.e, dumping urban wastes on our rural lands.
These companies have apparently found our region appealing because of its open spaces, low-cost disposal fees, and local (mostly farming) communities desperate for revenue.
Perhaps that’s why over 90% of New York State's waste disposal capacity is located in Central and Western New York.
Perhaps that’s why, as DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) Region 8 (see figure at left), we take in up to 50 times the amount of other people’s garbage as any of the eight other DEC regions in New York State, which is far beyond anyone’s fair share and an example of environmental injustice at its worst.
In Seneca County alone, that’s upwards of 6,000 tons a day (yes, that’s EVERY DAY) of trash arriving by 300 diesel-belching tractor trailers (assuming a load of 20 tons per rig) from places as distant as Canada and New York City – all to a landfill called, ironically enough, Seneca Meadows (see picture, right), the largest active municipal waste landfill in New York State and one of the largest landfills in the Northeastern U.S.
In other words, that’s more than 75,000 truck trips of trash a year (a staggering 99% imported from beyond our county). These trucks carry not only household waste but thousands of tons of contaminated soils, asbestos, incinerator ash, sludge, construction debris, and “other industrial waste.” (See Seneca Meadows’ most recent Annual Report, or click here for 2008 report.)
Note: Some of these waste materials are known to contain toxic substances which escape as fugitive gas emissions or are dispersed by the wind as particulates. Seneca Meadows is on record in 2010 for emitting over 84 tons of these toxic substances (volatile organic chemicals) into the air of the surrounding communities (see http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/79174.html)—an amount which has not only made Seneca Meadows the largest stationary pollution source in Seneca County, but which is believed by CCSC and other watchdog organizations to be understated due to improper modeling estimates.
Along with the trash, Seneca Meadows also trucks in soil (read that as an additional 15,000 truck trips a year through at least one local township—Waterloo, NY). This soil is used to help build the trash heaps into mountains 280 feet tall (see picture at right), forever changing the natural landscape and viewscape of this pastoral “lake country” area that was carved out by glaciers ten thousand years ago.
Note: Seneca Meadows says that “The soil is used to construct two of the four soil and protective plastic liners underneath the landfill . . .” But protective of what or whom, we ask? The state-of-art bottom liners on the market today are typically plastic (HDPE) liners which are only 100 mils (or 1/10 of an inch) thick, most are covered by only a 20-year warranty (see http://waste360.com/mag/waste_lining), and the EPA (this nation’s top Environmental agency) says that all liners will eventually “either degrade, tear, or crack and will allow liquids to migrate out of the unit (the landfill).” (Fed. Reg., July 26. 1982, Pg. 32284).
We are additionally concerned because a 2010 updated review of “information available pertinent to public health and environmental quality protection issues” for “existing Subtitle D landfills” by the California engineering-consulting firm, G. Fred Lee & Associates, had this to say:
- This type of landfill will at most locations cause groundwater pollution by landfill leachate and be adverse to the health, welfare and interests of nearby residents and property owners/users.”
- Landfill gaseous emissions contain a variety of volatile hazardous chemicals that are a threat to cause cancer and other diseases in those living in or using areas near a landfill.” (See citation at end.)
Note: leachate is the liquid effluent created from the rain and melted snow that has filtered through the garbage.
This air threat is described in great detail by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its National Air Toxics Program, which designated municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills as one of the 29 most significant area sources of hazardous air pollutants including, but not limited to, “known human carcinogens” such as vinyl chloride and benzene [65 FR 66672 (11/7/00)].
Additionally, a study issued by Texas A&M University in 1992 concluded that “the cancer risk assessment indicates that leachate from recently closed or currently operating MSW landfills receiving primarily residential waste are as chronically toxic as leachate from co-disposal landfills and hazardous waste landfills such as Love Canal.” (See citation at end.)
[Note: Seneca Meadows generates 34 million gallons of leachate a year (over 70,000 - 80,000 gallons of leachate a day), and only a fraction of the thousands of chemicals in MSW landfills have ever been tested for their human toxicity. Many are not measured or regulated at all.]
In fact, of the 3,000 chemicals that the US imports or produces at more than 1 million lbs/yr—and that may end up in our landfill, and therefore our air, and possibly our water—a new EPA analysis finds that 43% of these high production volume chemicals have no testing data on basic toxicity and only seven percent have a full set of basic test data. See http://www.epa.gov/hpv/pubs/general/hazchem.htm.
More recently, a 2005 research study published by the Columbia University School of Public Health, which examined multiple health risk studies, estimates cancer health risks for exposure to MSW landfill emissions at 41 in a million, whereas lifetime cancer risks in excess of the 10 in a million range are considered unacceptable by most health risk professionals (citation at end).
(Note: For additional research on municipal waste landfill studies that have shown increased risk of low birth weight, birth defects, and certain types of cancer—most notably a four-fold increased chance of bladder cancer or leukemia for women according to a 1998 New York State Department of Health study—see the end of this section.)
We are concerned that the waste business has become an immense commercial, money making venture in which citizens, not to mention regulatory agencies, are greatly outmatched by industry lobbyists. [Note: IESI-Seneca Meadows spent $97,500 in 2011 lobbying for their interests, and $147,000 in 2007—the year they “won” their 31 million ton expansion through the year 2023 (source: OpenSecrets.org).]
We are concerned that importing trash is a short-term revenue fix (it does not get to the heart of our economic woes), and that our elected leaders aren’t doing enough to provide sustainable economic development alternatives, especially since studies have shown that:
- We have the technical capacity to cost-effectively recycle, reuse or compost up to 90% of what we currently burn or bury.
- Recycling saves 3 to 7 times the energy that waste incinerator power plants generate.
- On a per ton basis, sorting and processing recyclables sustains 10 times more jobs than landfills, while composting facilities sustain 4 times more jobs than landfills.
We are concerned that our county representatives and their minions, such as the Seneca County IDA, are not looking for (and providing incentives to) entrepreneurs who can create viable businesses that use discarded materials rather than taking money from companies who wish to bury and burn them.
We are concerned that the residents of our county have lost control of decisions regarding our local waste issues to the foreign corporation that owns Seneca Meadows and this corporation’s likely even more distant shareholders.
We are concerned that a priority emphasis on land-filling that is not consistent with New York State’s Solid Waste Management Plan and its mission statement of using land-filling as a last resort, and that, as a result, Waterloo and the Finger Lakes have become a preeminent “sacrifice zone” for NY state.
Note: "Sacrifice zones are communities identified as possible locations for industries that other communities have refused to accept," explains Mary Ann Coleman, Coordinator for the New Brunswick Environmental Network. "Sacrifice zones lack political clout, money and resources. Often marginalized, they are deemed an expendable environmental cost to maintain North American culture . . .”
We are concerned because, In New York State, municipal governments hosting private waste facilities can be liable for future cleanup costs.
We are concerned because Richard C. Read, writing in The Journal of Real Estate Research, in his article “Do Landfills Always Depress Nearby Property Values?” states that, “landfills that accept high volumes of waste (500 tons per day or more) decrease adjacent residential property values by 13.7%, on average.” This means that a $175,000 home will lose $23,975. (Note: Seneca Meadows accepts 6000 tons per day.)
We are concerned that we have become a textbook case of social and environmental injustice because this landfill is located in a neighborhood whose residents are mostly lower income, yet receives waste—some of it contaminated—from much more affluent (downstate) communities.
We are concerned because, in 1997, the last time the NYS Dept. of Health studied the Seneca Meadows landfill, it concluded that “It is possible for extreme landfill odors to cause adverse health effects in exposed individuals." And they haven’t been back since.
We are concerned about breathing the toxic diesel exhaust from all of the trucks hauling garbage to our area, which is 100 times more toxic than gasoline exhaust on an equal horsepower basis (containing nearly 40 toxic substances), and has been classified by several organizations, including the EPA, as a probable or potential human carcinogen. http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0642.htm.
We are concerned because currently, in NYS, there are no mandates that require diverting household hazardous wastes out of landfills.
We are concerned that much of what is disposed of through our landfill is a valuable resource that could provide the basis for an expanded recycling and resource management industry, creating far more jobs in reprocessing, sorting and collecting of these materials than burying them. See http://www.container-recycling.org/assets/pdfs/reports/2011-ReturningToWork.pdf
We are concerned that New York State recycles only about 20 percent of its trash, and that the recycling rate of New York City (an area we import trash from) had dropped to just 15 percent in 2011, while the national average rate for recycling/waste diversion is at 34.1 percent and cities like San Francisco are at 77 percent.
We are concerned that the DEC is understaffed and heavily politicized, as evidenced by the DEC Commissioner speaking out in 2010, saying that their agency was not adequately staffed to protect human health and address environmental damage, only to be fired by the governor the next day for “sounding the alarm.”
We are concerned that biodegradable materials like food and yard waste degrade in landfills and produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with 72 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a twenty year period.
We are concerned that local officials have seen fit to enact so-called Community Benefits Agreements in exchange for cash and for dropping any opposition to landfill expansion(s)—technically, not bribery, of course, but a kind of crony capitalism, we feel, that does nothing to advance the general welfare.
And, yes, of course, we are concerned about noise, odor, increased traffic, dust, litter, flies, vermin, gulls, and garbage spills..
We are Concerned Citizens of Seneca County, Inc.
Please make our concerns your concerns by becoming a member or supporter of our organization.
In the coming year, we plan to continue educating the community about landfills, incineration, and their alternatives, and increase our contacts with local residents.
We could use your help.
Additional research on municipal waste landfill studies that have shown increased risk of low birth weight, birth defects, and certain types of cancer, are as follows:
- Goldberg, M. et al. (1995) Incidence of cancer among persons living near a municipal solid waste landfill site in Montreal, Quebec, Archives of Environmental Health, 1995. 50(6): 416-424.
- Goldberg, M., L. Goulet, et. al. (1995). “Low birth weight and preterm births among infants born to women living near a municipal solid waste landfill site in Montreal, Quebec.” Environmental Research 69(1): 37-50.
- State of New York Department of Health, Center for Environmental Health. Investigation of cancer incidence near 38 landfills with soil gas migration conditions: New York state, 1980-1989, 1998. Available from: New York State DOH, 2 University Place, Albany, NY 12203-3399.
- Berger, S., Jones P., White, M. Exploratory analysis of respiratory illness among persons living near a landfill, Journal of Environmental Health, 2000. 62.6: 19.
- Elliot, P. et al. Risk of adverse birth outcomes in populations living near landfill sites, British Medical Journal, 2001. 323(7209): 363-368.
- Dummer, T., Dickinson, H., Parker, L. Adverse pregnancy outcomes near landfill sites in Cumbria, northwest England, 1950-1993, Archives of Environmental Health, 2003. 58(11): 692-697.
- Palmer, S. et al. Risk of congenital anomalies after the opening of landfill sites, Environmental Health Perspectives, 2005. 113(10): 1362-1365.
- deFur P. Shelley S. Landfill and other waste sites in Virginia – Threats to Health and the Environment. Environmental Stewardship Concepts. Nov. 2002.
- Goldberg, M., J Siemiatycki, et al. (1999) Risks of developing cancer relative to living near a municipal solid waste landfill site in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Archives of Environmental Health, 1995. 54(4): 291-296.
Other studies referenced in this section are as follows:
- G. Fred Lee, PhD, PE, BCEE and Anne Jones-Lee, PhD, Flawed Technology of Subtitle D Landfilling of Municipal Solid Waste. Report of G. Fred Lee & Associates (updated June, 2010). Available from G. Fred Lee & Associates, 27298 East El Macero Dr., El Macero, CA 95618-1005. (530) 753-9630. www.gfredlee.com. 94 pgs.
- G.E. Schrab, K.W.Brown, and K.C. Donnelly, “Acute and Genetic Toxicity of Municipal Landfill Leachate” in Water, Air and Soil Pollution 69: 99-112, 1993.
- Moy. Pearl. “A Health Risk Comparison of Landfill Disposal and Waste-to-Energy (WTE) Treatment of Municipal Solid Waste in New York City (NYC). Doctoral Thesis for Columbia University School of Public Health; June, 2005.