Seneca County in Upstate NY is home to one of the largest landfills in the Northeastern United States, privately owned and operated by Seneca Meadows/IESI-BFC and located in Seneca Falls/Waterloo, NY (pop. 9,000/8,000, respectively).

Waterloo, where CCSC meets, is the county seat of Seneca County, New York, and is as “All-American” a town as they come, having been proclaimed in 1966 to be the Birthplace of the U.S. Memorial Day Celebration that is celebrated as a national holiday the last Monday in May.

An interesting side note of this Memorial Day story is that the people who organize the annual Waterloo Memorial Day celebration, the Celebrate Commemorate Memorial Day Committee, have refused to allow our group, Concerned Citizens of Seneca County, to purchase a booth to participate in this town-wide commemoration—the reason being, we can only presume (our check was returned without explanation), because one of their major sponsors is none other the landfill owner, itself, Seneca Meadows, Inc.

In fact, acceptance of gratuities (donations to local schools, gifts to elected officials, or outright yearly cash payments to both Waterloo and Seneca Falls) from the landfill owner is so commonplace in Seneca County, that we can only assume, once again, that this is the reason why many people refuse to speak out about it publicly. In this regard, members of CCSC feel they are fighting the use of money as speech in elections and politics, and that if the influence of money were removed—both locally and in our state capital—we would get more people to actually vote their conscience.

Seneca County, itself, designated as Economically Distressed, physically forms a divide between two “Finger Lakes” (Cayuga Lake to the east and Seneca Lake to the west), has a population of 33,342 (2000 Census), a per capita income of $20,336 (which is 77.6% of the US National per capita income of $26,173), and is also home to a 10,600-acre former Army depot which the EPA placed on the National Priorities List of Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste Sites on July 13, 1989.

The landfill, itself, totaling almost 400 acres, receives about 6,000 tons per day of municipal and industrial solid waste, contaminated soil, sewage sludge as well as incinerator ash*  from New England states, Pennsylvania, Canada, and 53 counties within New York State. It is built on an original landfill that, because of its age, lacks the double-liner system of newer dumps, and also contains a 26-acre, Class 2 inactive hazardous waste dump. It is scheduled to accept 31 million tons of waste through at least 2023, which will create the second of two peaks of refuse of approximately 707 feet above mean sea level. The landfill is within 8 miles of the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area, which is part of a nearly 50,000 acre wetlands complex that includes the federal Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Waste generated in Seneca County for landfilling amounts to less than 1% of the total landfilled here.

In 1999, thousands of residents had to be evacuated from the area surrounding this landfill because of a chemical fire that occurred there (the immediate two pictures shown are representative only), while, since at least 1997, nearby residents have complained about its odors. After studying the landfill, the NY State Department of Health sent a letter to a Supervisor of a local township, concluding that it had found elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide in air downwind of the facility, that "It is possible for extreme landfill odors to cause adverse health effects in exposed individuals," and that "No air study . . . can quantify and evaluate every potential toxin in landfill gas."

A secondary affected area is the community of Seneca/Stanley, NY (less than 10 miles from the Seneca landfill just mentioned), which hosts its own 3000-ton a day landfill (having received 597,382 tons of waste in 2007) with similar demographics to those just described, despite a more affluent suburban area to the west.**

Together, both landfills account for approximately a third of the waste landfilled in New York State, even though less than 6% of the waste is generated from within the local area.

The landfills accept combined daily deliveries of waste by diesel trucks at approximately 450 truckloads per day, six days a week, year round, which total 140,400 truckloads annually arriving from all directions; and the landfills collectively generate over 100,000 gallons of leachate a day for which more than half is trucked to local wastewater treatment plants before being discharged into surrounding lakes.

As part of the Environmental Justice movement, members of these landfill communities have not only initiated outreach to their neighbors but have brought these issues to City Hall, to their Senators, to offices of local Congressmen, to Washington D.C., to meetings with representatives of the EPA and, on 11/23/09, to a conference call with Pete Grannis, the Commissioner of the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).  But the trash keeps arriving.

Of course, the climate effects of the described scenario(s) are significant as well, as the U.S. EPA reports that landfills are the largest human related source of methane emissions in the U.S., and it has been estimated that 3.8% of U.S. global warming damage occurs from just the methane in landfill gas alone.***

As this region is part of the Great Lakes watershed, the world’s largest source of fresh surface water—representing about one-fifth of the world’s total supply—the nearly 40 million people from the U.S. and Canada that get their water from the Great Lakes basin can be affected by global warming as well as other more direct effects of landfill  contamination, especially since less than 1% of the water within the Great Lakes is renewed each year, leaving it vulnerable to pollution and over-consumption.

References

*New York State DEC, June, 2009 and NYDEC Seneca Meadows Landfill Annual/Quarterly Report, December, 2008

**New York State DEC Ontario County Landfill Annual/Quarterly Report, December, 2007.

***See EPA's Greenhouse Gas Inventory.