Elected officials fault EPA program to clean up dump leaks
KINDERHOOK–The federal Environmental Protection Agency said last week it would begin discharging treated water from the Dewey Loeffel Landfill Superfund Site into the Valatie Kill January 24. The news has dismayed officials representing downstream communities.
In an email sent to local news outlets January 23, Mary Mears, the EPA’s deputy director public affairs and chief of the agency’s public outreach branch for this area, said that the water, which was then about to be released, had been tested and any potentially harmful substances detected were at levels below the limits set by federal and state safety standards.
“I don’t believe any toxins are good,” said Valatie Mayor Diane Argyle in a phone interview with The Columbia Paper. The Village Board was working on a motion to ask the EPA for health and environmental reviews on the water when they found out releases of treated water would start last week. “There are too many questions,” she said of the water quality, and she continued that the EPA “are only giving us poor answers.”
The site is a closed landfill in the Rensselaer County Town of Nassau where, for nearly 20 years starting in 1952, large corporations dumped an estimated 46,000 tons of toxic industrial chemicals and other waste. Some of the hazardous materials, which include PCBs, have leaked from the site, reached the upper Valatie Kill and traveled downstream at least as far as Kinderhook Lake, which borders on the Towns of Kinderhook and Chatham.
Local governments, including the Towns of Kinderhook and Chatham as well as the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, have asked that the federal government not release the treated water into the Valatie Kill until the government conducts health and environmental reviews. The Valatie Kill eventually joins the Kinderhook Creek at Valatie. Kinderhook Creek empties into the Hudson River.
Congressman Chris Gibson (R -19th) wrote this week in an email to The Columbia paper, “I join with our local, county, state, and federal officials in calling on the EPA to conduct a health study on the effects of any discharges into the Valatie Kill. This is imperative for the health and safety of my constituents and it is unacceptable for the EPA to not be fulfilling this basic responsibility. In addition, I believe all discharges into the Valatie Kill should be stopped until this health study is completed. I will be doing whatever I can to support the Town of Nassau and the surrounding communities–they can count on me being a steadfast ally in this effort.”
Ms. Mears of the EPA wrote in her January 23 email, “The data show no detectable levels of most contaminants tested for, including PCBs and the contaminant 1, 4-dioxane. Detectable levels of some metals, including mercury, were well below the limits set by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for discharging into the Valatie Kill.”
State Senator Kathleen Marchione (R – 43 rd) wrote by email, “It is unacceptable and deeply disappointing that the EPA is allowing suspect discharge into the Valatie Kill despite continued strong objections by myself and others. Based on some reports, it appears that the EPA did not alert local officials about the discharge, which is highly disturbing…. I stand with local communities and leaders in again expressing my opposition to the EPA’s decision.”
A water treatment plant was constructed at the Superfund site in the Town of Nassau to treat groundwater and other liquids (called leachate) that have been seeping out of the closed industrial landfill. According to the EPA, the waste dumped at the site included “industrial solvents, waste oils, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), scrap materials, sludge and solids.” The companies involved in the dumping included GE, Bendix and a firm then called Schenectady International.
“As part of this process, the EPA is requiring that water treated in the plant be pumped into tanks and thoroughly tested before going into the Valatie Kill,” Ms. Mears wrote.
Earlier attempts by the state to contain the hazardous substances at the site failed, and EPA eventually assumed responsibility for the cleanup. In 2012, General Electric and Schenectady Chemicals (now SI Group) came to an agreement with the EPA to take over the cleanup.
Mayor Argyle said that she not sure what the village can do next to stop the release of the water. She has been asked by residents about legal action but said, “The village doesn’t have those kinds of resources.” The mayor said she plans to continue to be vocal about her opposition to the water being added to the Valatie Kill and hopes to get a report from the EPA about chemicals are still in the water.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email firstname.lastname@example.org.