In response to what happened to the Town of Farmersville, in 1990 the Town of Great Valley enacted a local law prohibiting all dumping of wastes in the town. Soon after, the Cattaraugus County Legislature urged every town in the county to ban landfills. The county wants to protect health and safety in light of experience with past landfills and the risk of exposure to toxic substances from new landfills. Modern landfills mix thousands of synthetic chemicals found in common consumer and industrial waste, and they are allowed to take hazardous wastes from small quantity generators. In order to be economically viable such landfills must take enormous quantities of waste, on the order of five thousand times what the county produces.
Now Great Valley is waffling in face of a new proposal from J.D. Northrup to build a construction and demolition (C&D) landfill on three acres of a 260-acre site on Rt. 98 in Great Valley. Unlike the Farmersville proposal, the sponsor will benefit from considerable good will it has built in the community. It will also benefit from lenient state regulations for a landfill under three acres. But citizens should be concerned for a number of reasons.
First, a C&D landfill is every bit as toxic as any other solid waste landfill. Old building materials contain significant amounts of PCBs, banned from production by the federal government. In minute amounts as small as parts per billion PCBs are linked to mental retardation, nervous system dysfunctions and cancer. Like many other synthetic organic chemicals found in waste, the concentration of PCBs magnifies as they are ingested throughout the food chain, with the most dangerous concentrations often found in fish. Lead paint is also found in older demolition materials. In fact, C&D waste contains many synthetic chemicals and is probably more toxic pound for pound than municipal solid waste.
Second, the primary pathways of exposure are not only through the groundwater (this site would be close to Great Valley Creek), but through the dust and dirt released in the air at such a landfill. Exposure through inhalation goes farther and is more direct than by contact with polluted water.
Third, once it is permitted we can expect this landfill to grow. Landfills can be expanded without the same level of review required to permit them in the first place. Private management of waste is driven by lucrative profits at landfills. Large "integrated" waste companies that own pickup, transfer, hauling and landfilling operations are waiting in the wings to purchase already permitted landfills. Waste Management has already purchased all of New York City's transfer stations. In 1999, Casella Waste Systems (owner of SDS Disposal of Olean and over 200 garbage facilities in the northeast) purchased transfer stations in Chautauqua and Erie counties.
We saw this happen in Angelica, where a local businessman proposed a small ash monofill, and Casella bought it a year after it was permitted and obtained NYSDEC's permission to turn it into a regional solid waste landfill. CID's private landfill in Sardinia was purchased in 1998 by Waste Management, Inc., which owns a number of major regional landfills in wstern New York and Pennsylvania, and it too was promptly expanded.
Nobody seriously questions John Northrup's honesty or integrity. However, he has made it clear this a business decision, and we fear after his three acres is full (or before) somebody else will make him an offer he can't refuse.
Both Casella and WMI have been caught illegally tampering with waste markets, lying about how much waste they manage and whether
their monitoring wells and transfer stations have released pollution into the local air or water, and they have been fined and indicted for civil and criminal incidents involving contamination and illegal dumping of hazardous materials at their facilities.
Fourth, there is no need for this landfill. Most of this state's landfills are already located in western New York, and they leave one million tons of landfill space unused each year. That's why the fee to dump at these landfills is the lowest it's been in years, averaging under $25 per ton. But to shave costs the Northrup corporation would have the people of Great Valley and the users of Great Valley Creek bear the burden of toxic pollution.
Fifth, the Town of Great Valley's local prohibition on dumping is "plain on its face," as town attorney Ron Ploetz said March 6th. The local law only publicly owned dumps are allowed, and private dumping or "placing of prohibited solid waste material within the Town of Great Valley" is not. Having such a clear policy and then getting a proposal like this is no different than hanging out a "no soliticitations" sign only to answer the doorbell to somebody selling something.
We think the town got it exactly right in 1990: If the town needs a dump it should take responsibility for building one. However, it should not allow its land to be used to host a risky facility whose primary goal is to turn a profit. There's nothing wrong with turning a profit, unless the risks of your business are primarily to the public health. That's when citizens and neighbors should turn to local government, whose primary role is to protect the public's health and safety.
At an informational meeting held March 6 the Town Board remained silent as John Reed managed a presentation for J.D. Northrup before about eighty skeptical citizens. The company admitted that older electrical wiring, a primary source of PCBs, would be dumped as unusable waste into a landfill lined only with high density clay soil.
The company also asserted it would provide a bond for perpetual care of the dump. However, NYSDEC's Part 360 regulations provide only for a 30-year post-closure bond and for monitoring during that period. After that, the liability belongs to the town. Even if problems are detected during the 30-year period, it is extremely unlikely contaminants will be dug up and removed from the site.
After the March 6 meeting local news reported that J.D. Northrup would submit his proposal to the Great Valley Planning Board for site plan review. However, in view of the local prohibition on dumps of any kind such review would seem plainly illegal. The town must first change its local law.
J.D. Northrup needs both a state permit from NYSDEC and a local permit from Town Board. "C&D waste" is a NYSDEC Part 360 designation that does not limit the Town, which is free to prohibit all waste dumping.