Small audience gets earful on Superfund water

VALATIE–Members of the Rensselaer County group UNCAGED invited the public to a meeting here last week to share what the group has learned and done about the nearby federal Superfund toxic waste dump called the Dewey Loeffel Landfill.

Water from a new treatment plant at the site in the Town of Nassau is being periodically released in the Valatie Kill after going through a decontamination process. The plant was paid for by GE and other companies that dumped toxic industrial waste there for nearly two decades starting in the early 1950s. UNCAGED has been pressing the state and federal government for years to clean up the pollution and monitor the health of area residents, who may have been exposed to dangerous chemicals.

The group’s name is an acronym for United Neighbors Concerned about General Electric & Dewey Loeffel landfill, was organized in the 1990s by two women concerned about how toxic materials escaping from the dump and polluting local water supplies might be affecting the health of their children and other residents living in and around the Village of Nassau.

Group members who spoke in the Lutheran Church on Route 9 in the village May 12 stressed that the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s designation of Dewey Loeffel as a Superfund site was a good thing as is the EPA’s monitoring of the water treatment plant. The long-term cleanup of the chemicals buried at the site and seeping into the surrounding area is the group’s biggest concern.

About 15 residents of Kinderhook and Valatie attended the meeting, many of them concerned about the water being released into the Valatie Kill, which feeds into Kinderhook Lake and eventually the Hudson. One Kinderhook Lake resident expressed surprise at hearing that the state had issued a health advisory years ago, warning that children and pregnant women should not eat fish from Kinderhook Lake and that others should limit how much fish they eat. The advisory was issued long before treated water from the landfill was intentionally released into the stream. One reason for the advisory is that there are PCBs in fish from Kinderhook Lake, although the UNCAGED speakers said it has not been established that the PCBs came from the landfill.

Several people at the meeting questioned whether the latest cleanup program was a threat to those who live downstream.

The UNCAGED members talked about the history of the site, saying that even after chemical dumping stopped in 1968, there were unexplained and apparently spontaneous fires at the dump, and farm animals on nearby properties were suddenly dying after heavy rains raised the water table. The waterway closest to the dumpsite is the Valatie Kill, which flows through Nassau Lake and then southward to Kinderhook Lake and then on to Kinderhook Creek.

Kelly Travers-Main, a co-founder of UNCAGED, told the audience that the group’s efforts started with a call for a health registry. But while the state rejected that request, the group has had an impact. GE has paid for a new Nassau Lake dam to prevent sediment from the lake from escaping downstream, and the state removed some of the PCBs that had accumulated in the lake. GE and the state also placed some barriers around the site in an effort to prevent pollution of groundwater and runoff, but there is a plume of toxic chemicals that has migrated southward.

Dan Spilman of UNCAGED presented a series of slides outlining the efforts to contain and remove the estimated 46,000 tons of hazardous waste at the 19-acre site. “This is going to be a very long process,” he said. One of the problems impeding cleanup in the past was a legal settlement in 1980 between GE and the state, which transferred responsibility for Dewey Loeffel and six other polluted sites from the company to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. As state funding for the agency has lagged in recent years, the DEC was not able to fund new cleanup measures.

That situation improved three years ago when the EPA declared Dewey Loeffel a federal Superfund site, a move that led to construction of the new water treatment plant that began operating earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Mr. Spilman said, “EPA is still is still working to define the plume” by drilling wells and testing the groundwater.

The local residents at the meeting asked about testing Kinderhook Lake to see whether it was being affected by release of water from the site. They also voiced concerns plans to increase the volume of water being treated and released.

Ann Rabe, an UNCAGED member, said that she would send a letter to the EPA requesting answers to these questions. The group could not be reached by email before the deadline for this story for an update on the letter.

Larisa Romanowski, the public affairs specialist for the EPA in Hudson, wrote in an email to the Columbia Paper that the agency does not have a timeframe for starting discharges directly from the plant into the stream. So far the EPA has sent the treated water to holding tanks, tested it and then released the water. “The EPA has taken a conservative approach with the slow startup of the treatment plant to ensure that it is working properly,” she wrote. The EPA has released 19 tanks to date, each containing 20,000 gallons of treated water.

Parry Teasdale contributed to this story.

 

 

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