By Remi Schott and Daniel Marcillo
The Brookhaven Landfill, located in Yaphank, has implemented a Corrective Action Plan, H2O2 treatment, and an improved Leachate Collection System, in light of an ongoing lawsuit against the facility.
The lawsuit, which was brought against the landfill on August 23, contains 24 plaintiffs who allege that the landfill is the cause of a multitude of different health conditions– including cancer.
Many of the plaintiffs include faculty at the Frank P Long Intermediate School, who believe working in such a close proximity to the landfill is the reason for a decline in their health.
“I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, never a smoker! My left lung was removed and I had four rounds of Chemo, 10 hours each.” Theresa Palermo, a former teacher involved in the lawsuit said. Palermo is one of the 35 teachers at the school that has been diagnosed with cancer. On average, at least one faculty member at Frank P Long is diagnosed with cancer every two years.
Since the landfill opened in March of 1974, Brookhaven residents complained about its location. Only 0.3 percent of air quality readings at the Frank P. Long school detected H2S, according to a fact sheet released by the Department of Environmental Conservation, released in April. Residents and people from the school still feel the effects of the air quality despite the readings.
The odors can be attributed to untreated waste dumped in landfills, such as the combination of feces with the wastewater. Germany, Austria, Sweden and other countries have banned the untreated waste in landfills. The untreated waste leads to waterborne pathogens which can cause illnesses.
“Four days back to school I was at the doctors with a sinus infection.” Joe Tortora, a 5th grade teacher at the intermediate school said. “It starts with headaches, then some people get rashes and then after being in the school for 10 or more years then you start getting major illnesses, like autoimmune diseases.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Town of Brookhaven have taken steps towards improving the air quality in the areas surrounding the landfill.
One of the steps is the implementation of the Corrective Action Plan (CAP). The final version of the plan states the town will focus on ‘capping and closure of the sections of the landfill which are filled to capacity’ as well as ‘mitigating the leachate storage tank area.’ The DEC estimates that by the Spring of 2019, approximately 75 percent of the landfill will be capped and covered with several different layers of a soil placed on top of the contaminated land.
“There is so much progress that can be made in true reduction of the waste stream through, cradle to grave design, and closed loop thinking in industrial and consumer economies,” Environmental Teacher at Long Beach High School, Cody Onufrock said. The “cradle to grave design” tracks waste from the second it enters to the second it leaves and “closed loop thinking” is using the same product multiple times.
H2O2 dosing stations have also been installed next to the leachate holding tanks. According to the Town of Brookhaven Landfill fact sheet these tanks have been “promising – adding H2O2 to the leachate tanks had reduced air concentration of H2S.” Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) is a colorless gas that gives off a “rotten egg” smell and is very poisonous.
The landfill has added H2O2 to the leachate tanks to attempt to limit the odors it omits. Leachate is a hazardous waste liquid that passes through a landfill after any type of precipitation.
Even with the new plans in place, community members are skeptical that they will be effective in repairing the damage that has been created by the landfill, over the past few decades.
“I think they try to cover up what they are doing. They don’t really speak to us as much as they are supposed to. The town pays someone at the DEC to monitor the landfill. Well, how’s that working?” Tortora said.
Officials from the Brookhaven landfill have declined to comment.