RENSSELAER, NY: Rensselaer residents took a big step toward closing the Dunn (Waste Connections) construction and demolition (C&D) debris landfill in November when they elected Mike Stammel as mayor of their city. Mr. Stammel, also chairman of the Rensselaer County Legislature, has taken an anti-dump stance and works with locals eager to immediately close the dump.
As of mid-November, more than 900 comments have been posted on ItStinks.org about dump odors, many from residents who say the dump is literally making them ill. Many people have posted many times. Comments continue to be received from East Greenbush and Rensselaer residents. Dump odors complaints are also coming from the Doane Stuart school on Washington Avenue near where it crosses over I-90.
In recent weeks, truck traffic into and from the dump has diminished as have the tractor trailer truck parades that greatly irritated downtown Rensselaer residents.
Retired NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone was the keynote speaker at a November 14 community forum in downtown Rensselaer. About seventy attended. Mr. Stone told stories of his many dump-fighting experiences and said C&D wastes contain an unknown cocktail of materials and poisons including large quantities of debris from buildings quickly demolished after fires. He said DEC and the state health department are gambling with the health of Rensselaer children.
During a multi-day and all too common dump odor assault inside the school buildings, Rensselaer City School District Superintendent Joseph Kardash issued an October 25 email to school staff that read in part: “Thanks to everyone that helped us keep a record of the unacceptable odor issues last week…It is critical for us to form an accurate picture of how this issue affected our students and staff. We cannot expect to provide a productive learning/working environment when subjected to these odors in our building. Since odors are extremely difficult to measure in scope, intensity, and duration – our only tool to do so is to keep a record of observations…On Friday, 10/25 we received 23 reports of odors. some were multiple instances. All were before 10:45. 11 reports were related to the elementary hallway between 7:15 and 8:40. 3 were related to the 2nd floor hall around 9:30. 1 referenced the 3rd floor hall around 9:30. I was in the main hall around 10am. 8 were specific classrooms at specific times. This reported information allowed us to paint a very difficult picture of what our students and staff were experiencing to the DEC. They quickly sent 3 people to our school to further assess the situation.”
At a November 21 meeting of the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition (REC) attended by twenty-five, Mr. Kardash urged Rensselaer residents and others to not say they would not send their children to the school because it scares people. He said the school district has and is collecting lots of data, the school has been tested for lead, and “I want accessible data – then we can shut the dam thing.”
A fascinating discussion began. One Rensselaer resident said “I don’t like sending my kid to the school.” He said he formerly lived next to the BASF manufacturing facility [now an inactive hazardous waste site a few hundred feet from the Hudson River and a few blocks south of downtown Rensselaer, where BioHiTech hopes to construct a 150,000 tons per year solid waste reprocessing business] and frequently saw dirt particles come from BASF and land on the ground. A Rensselaer mother of four said, “There is a lot that testing does not capture. I am a scientist. A false feeling exists that dump testing assures safety.” A man noted there was a giant spike in measured hydrogen sulfide at the dump on September 21 and asked why this would occur on a Saturday when the dump is closed for the weekend. Another man said that when he spoke at a community forum in July, David Carpenter, MD, who specializes in environmental health, said children are up to twenty times more at risk than adults to toxic exposures, and if people frequently experience odors, they sort of get used to them, like people who live near hospitals tune out ambulance noise, but the danger remains. Mr Kardash promised to participate in a follow-up meeting.
Meanwhile Governor Cuomo continues to ignore the public health crises Dunn dump operations impose on Rensselaer and East Greenbush children and adults. He regularly attends parades and fundraisers, opened Exit 3 of the Northway driving a classic car, and issued a news release and video celebrating the second birthday of his dog. The state Health Department is quiet as always. State Senator Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John McDonald continue to disappoint many Rensselaer and East Greenbush residents with their refusal to call for the closure of the dump. In a Nov. 27 statement, Mr McDonald wrote “this issue is not going away any time soon.”
US Representative Paul Tonko signed a petition on November 16 that reads as follows: “Dear Governor Andrew Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos: We the undersigned call on you both to immediately shut down the Waste Connections Dunn Construction & Demolition (C&D) waste dump in Rensselaer, NY. it is located 200 feet from a pre-existing PreK-12th grade school, athletic fields, and close to many neighborhoods. Up to 100 massive tractor trailer trucks also roar through the city each weekday. Therefore, the dump is a health and environmental hazard to thousands of children and families and negatively affects quality of life. We urge you to shut down the Dunn dump and require the company to fully clean up the school. homes, and the dump, and to reject any proposed expansion.”
Albany County legislators William Reinhardt and Doug Bullock signed the petition the same day. (Mr. Tonko made it clear he signed not in his official capacity as an elected federal legislator, but as a private citizen.) Hopefully their courageous act will motivate other elected officials and physicians to call for the closure of the dump.
Published in December 2019/Jauary 2020
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