EPA may give toxic dump Superfund status

NASSAU–The federal government is stepping in to consider what it can do to address the Dewey Loeffel toxic waste dump, a reservoir of hazardous chemicals near the Rensselaer County village of Nassau. Nassau Lake in the village feeds the Valatie Kill, which runs through northern Columbia County, and while measurements downstream have not detected the chemicals so far, the site continues to emit pollution into nearby groundwater supplies.

“The companies that put this stuff here settled with New York state, but they did not settle with us,” said Mel Hauptman, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2, during a briefing at the St. Mary’s Parish Hall in the village Monday. He announced that the EPA is considering classifying the closed landfill a federal Superfund site, which could lead to significant federal cleanup funds.

Officials estimate total remediation of the pollution at the Dewey Loeffel landfill site would cost $1 billion.

EPA officials received a letter October 13 from Pete Grannis, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental, urging action on the landfill where GE, the now-defunct Schenectady Chemical company and other firms dumped 46,000 tons of PCBs, benzenes and other industrial waste materials toxic to humans and the environment.

The toxins are buried in field that once served as an industrial dump site, but a plume containing some of the poisonous materials continues to leach into groundwater and some has escaped through runoff. The DEC installed three extraction wells that pump 25,000 to 47,000 gallons of polluted water weekly, which the agency then trucks to a facility in Canada. DEC officials say the cost of the operation runs into six figures annually.

Designs for a $38-million onsite wastewater treatment plant, which would end the trucking of the toxins and filter the wastewater instead, are 70% complete but have been put on hold, according to Michael Komoroske of the DEC.

“We’re talking about twice the contamination of Love Canal,” one resident said at Monday’s meeting.

Nassau Supervisor Dave Fleming said he hopes the EPA designates the landfill as a Superfund site and then picks up the bill for the treatment plant. “Having an agency re-look at it is positive,” he said. “Our residents continue to suffer the health effects.”

“Remediation… has been ongoing for decades, while the hazardous substances released from the site continue to threaten our community’s well-being,” said Assemblyman Tim Gordon (I-108th).

EPA officials will evaluate all DEC documents, produce a federal record of decision, and then propose the site for inclusion on the U.S. National Priorities List. A 60-day public comment period would follow before the landfill would officially become a Superfund site. If finalized, the landfill and the surrounding area, including Nassau Lake, southwest of the landfill, would be included in the site.

One resident expressed relief at the prospect of being able to voice input on the record about the toxic site but was disappointed that GE, which contributed to the pollution, may also enter statements during the public comment period.

“I haven’t been able to enjoy the (Nassau) Lake,” another resident said. “I want to clean it up.”

Others who live near the landfill expressed concern that property values would further decline if the site achieves federal status.

In the 1970s, residents reported a black tar-like substance bubbling up from the ground and ash-filled smoke flooding the sky after arsonists started multiple fires at the landfill. Today, when the weather is warm, mosquitoes and black flies buzz around some of the exposed 55-gallon drums at the 11-acre site. The property was capped with soil by DEC in 1983 and surrounded by a fence. In 1989, the state sued GE and the two sides eventually reached a settlement. If Dewey Loeffel, already a state Superfund site, makes the federal Superfund list, the EPA will have the authority to force GE and possibly other dumpers to pay for additional cleanup measures.

GE currently funds yearly fish samples in the Nassau Lake, taken by Michael Kane and other DEC staff. State officials maintain the landfill is no longer a source of PCBs in groundwater, but sediment in Nassau Lake and Valatie Kill contain the manmade chemical, which is a suspected cause of cancer and can cause cognitive problems in children, and still lingers in the mud from the original dumping.

Mr. Komoroske acknowledged that the landfill does still leak benzenes and other toxic materials. Every June, Mr. Kane and his associates catch fish and ship them packed in dry ice to a lab in Wisconsin, where they are tested to determine the level of PCBs in their fatty tissue. Samples taken since 2006 indicate PCB levels in fish are on a downward trend, but fish in Nassau Lake are still not safe to eat. Fish advisories are also posted along the Valatie Kill and Kinderhook Lake in Columbia County.

GE completed construction of a new $2-million dam at the lower end of Nassau Lake this year. The state Department of Health monitors 20 residential wells near the landfill and five wells receive carbon filtration. None of the wells contain PCBs, said Bridget Callaghan of the health department.

“My well is one of those wells, and it is not regularly tested for PCBs,” countered one resident Monday.

Ms. Callaghan said that private wells are checked quarterly, and no PCBs have ever been found in samples taken from them.

The health department wants the homes with the carbon-filtered wells tested for volatile organic compounds, a soil vapor intrusion evaluation, said Ms. Callaghan, adding that the state wants GE to spearhead these new tests.

Residents demanded to know when this would be done, and Mr. Komoroske said, “If GE does not get back to me in a month, we will hire a contractor.”

New York state has 88 federal Superfund sites. The EPA lists them at www.epa.gov/region02/cleanup/sites/nytoc_sitename.htm.

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