GENEVA — Living near sanitary landfills may increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and asthma.
That was the conclusion of three panelists Monday night at Albright Auditorium on the Hobart and William Smith Colleges campus.
About 100 people attended the program, called “Landfill Toxins and Public Health” and co-sponsored by Finger Lakes Zero Waste Coalition and Concerned Citizens of Seneca County.
Both groups have expressed serious concerns about the health impacts of two of the state’s largest landfills, the Ontario County Landfill in the town of Seneca and Seneca Meadows Landfill in Seneca Falls.
One of the panelists, Dr. David Carpenter, director of the SUNY Albany Institute for Health and the Environment, cited his own and other research on the health of people living near hazardous and household waste landfills or waste sites.
Carpenter said a 1998 series of air sampling of 25 landfills in the state found high concentrations of carcinogenic chemicals that contributed not only to cancer but to neurological and liver diseases as well.
He said data was collected for 10 years on exposure to these chemicals from breathing the air, having it come into contact with skin, eating food grown nearby or drinking groundwater.
“Statistics from reports of illnesses contracted by people living in certain zip codes shows those near landfills have higher birth defects, thyroid disorders, nervous system disorders, immune system diseases and cancer,” Carpenter said.
He also said some studies have shown higher levels of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and cardio-pulmonary disease.
“The facts show you are at higher risk of these diseases if you live near a landfill,” Carpenter said.
Later during the panel discussion, he told a questioner that three miles is considered close enough to a landfill to possibly be impacted by the toxins.
“There is reason to be concerned. It’s pretty clear that if you live near a waste site, you have increased exposure to toxins and toxins increase your risk of disease,” Carpenter said.
In addition to Carpenter, participants on the panel discussion were Donald Hassig, president of Cancer Action NY, and Barbara Warren, executive director of the Citizens Environmental Coalition in Albany.
Warren was involved in the effort to close the state’s largest landfill, Fishkill on Staten Island, several years ago.
An audience member asked what happened to the trash that was going to Fishkill, once it was capped and closed.
“The volume had dropped from 26,000 tons a day to 13,000 tons a day, then 11,000 tons and then it closed. Most of it went to Pennsylvania landfills, but some probably came up here,” Warren said.
All three have concerns about the reduced staff at the state Department of Environmental Conservation hampering regulation of landfills and waste sites.
They all are anxiously waiting to see who Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo picks to head the DEC and the state Health Department and whether he will try to rebuild the DEC staff.
”The Health Department does not want to share information on cancer and landfills. The DEC is better at facing those issues, but they need more people,” Hassig said.
Douglas Knipple, president of the Zero Waste Coalition, asked how industrial pollutants are getting into sanitary landfills.
“There is not only household waste, but commercial waste, which contains volatile organics, getting into these landfills. There’s evidence that some industrial waste is also getting in,” Carpenter said, adding. “I don’t know how or why.”
Hassig said Seneca Meadows accepts fly ash from the Onondaga County incinerator.
“That ash is high in dioxins and POPs. They should not be allowed to accept that,” Hassig said.
It also was noted that landfill leachate taken to area wastewater treatment plants provides only a place to dump that toxin-laden material. Running it through a plant doesn’t change its makeup as it flows into the Finger Lakes, Hassig said.
Other questions included why are two large landfills located in this area and are there ways to reduce pollution emissions from landfills.
Darrin Magee, panel moderator and a professor at the Colleges, suggested landfills are here because of the economic benefits that some claim they provide, noting the area is in a “depressed” part of the state.
Carpenter said the best way to reduce emissions is good plastic liners below and above, plus collecting methane gas.