On World Water Day, Advocates Urge Action on Pervasive PFAS Chemicals

Seneca Lake Guardian, Assemblymember Kelles + Senator May, Food and Water Watch Push for Bill to Require Facilities to Disclose PFAS in Discharges to Waterways

SENECA FALLS, NY (03/22/2023) (readMedia)-- Today, March 22, is World Water Day – marking the first day of the UN's 2023 Water Conference taking place in New York City through Thursday, March 24. The international event's agenda includes accelerating sustainable water technologies and empowering communities and spurring governmental action to stop and clean up toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS pollution. PFAS are known as "forever chemicals'' because they persist in the environment and are difficult to clean up. PFAS are found in many everyday products including GORE-TEX, non-stick pans, and even popcorn bags. Once those items make their way to landfills such as New York's largest – Seneca Meadows – leachate containing PFAS finds its way from the landfills to our drinking water sources. Located in Seneca Falls, Seneca Meadows landfill produces 75 million gallons of leachate every year. Two thirds of this leachate is hauled, untreated, to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, and Steuben County.

According to the CDC, exposure to PFAS chemicals is linked to harmful health impacts such as cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma, and thyroid disease.

There are currently no federal or state regulations requiring PFAS testing for all facilities permitted to discharge water. This leaves municipalities in the dark about where discharges are coming from, and unable to take meaningful action to protect their drinking water from contamination.

"PFAS contamination is an urgent issue across New York, the nation, and around the world. These are toxic 'forever chemicals' that have been linked to cancer. Seneca Meadows – the state's largest landfill standing nearly 30 stories tall – discharges 75 million gallons of PFAS laden leachate every year. We must take aggressive action to protect the Finger Lakes' 8.2 trillion gallons of fresh drinking water. That's why we're calling on Governor Hochul to direct the DEC to close the landfill in Seneca Falls in 2025 as originally planned, and why lawmakers must pass Senator May and Assembly Member Kelles's bill requiring PFAS testing this session," said Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of Seneca Lake Guardian.

"At 280 feet and climbing, if Seneca Meadows Inc. were a building, it would be one of the tallest buildings in the entire region, including all commercial, governmental and educational buildings. The stench of the landfill carries for miles, not only disrupting the life of Seneca Falls but threatening the critical wine and agritourism of the Finger Lakes region. The leachate released from the landfill is full of chemicals like PFAS, and water treatment facilities are ill equipped to process and extract PFAS, threatening the health and safety of drinking water across the state. On this World Water Day, we need to take action to curb the unsustainable rate of waste production and the associated harm to our water supplies, not simply allow this massive landfill to continue to expand," said Assemblymember Anna Kelles.

"Our hundreds of lakes and miles of streams in New York provide drinking water for millions of people and support agriculture, tourism, and recreation. To help protect our precious fresh water, I've introduced the PFAS Discharge Disclosure Act, which would require the DEC to create rules for testing and reporting on the discharge of so-called "forever chemicals" into the state's water. PFAS accumulates in our bodies and can disrupt fertility, child development, and immune systems. We must do all we can to protect the health of New Yorkers and ensure our freshwater resources are available for future generations," said Senator Rachel May.

"The science is clear: No amount of PFAS in water is safe," said Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director Alex Beauchamp. "For decades, corporate polluters have contaminated our drinking water with their toxic waste. Despite the known threats industry's forever chemicals pose to our health, our legislators are in the dark about these chemicals' source. The PFAS Discharge Disclosure Act is a necessary first step toward increased regulation of these dangerous chemicals - State and Assembly leadership must join us in the fight to pass S227A/A3296."

The "PFAS Surface Water Discharge Disclosure Act" (S227A/A3296) would require annual testing for all facilities permitted to discharge water. There are no federal or state regulations currently requiring PFAS disclosures from all facilities that might be discharging it. Worldwide drinking water resources are already strained by wasteful industrial practices and Seneca Lake Guardian is raising the alarm. According to a landmark report from the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, global freshwater demand will outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030. The Finger Lakes region is home to 8.2 trillion gallons of fresh drinking water. The group is calling for lawmakers to pass S227A to detect and disclose PFAS contamination so meaningful action can be taken to protect these valuable resources from toxic forever chemicals.

According to the 2021 Annual Report, Seneca Meadows landfill produces 75 million gallons of leachate each year which is distributed not just to Seneca Falls but also to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, and Steuben County, and the leachate eventually ends up in sources for drinking water. Only a third of the leachate is treated, while the rest of the untreated leachate is trucked to communities across the state and in New Jersey, which bear the cost burden of filtering it out of local drinking sources.

Last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency proposed measurable contaminant levels of four parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, with a health based goal of zero, acknowledging that no amount is safe for human health. The EPA's proposal is significantly lower than the New York State Department of Health's current guidance of ten parts per trillion. The EPA's proposal also limits any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and/or GenX Chemicals. For these PFAS, water systems would use an established approach called a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk. If finalized, the proposed regulation will require public water systems to monitor for these chemicals. It will also require public water systems to notify the public and reduce PFAS contamination if levels exceed the proposed regulatory standards.

Seneca Lake Guardian has been urging for more transparency on the issue of PFAS for at least 5 years, urging the DOH to make public their mapping and testing of the PFAS plumes detected at the former Seneca Army Depot, that were heading toward both Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. When stonewalled, SLG did its own testing, with results indicating levels of PFAS contamination in every sample. SLG also met with Senator Gillibrand's staff about their findings, stressing that corn was planted and dairy cows were grazing on potentially PFAS-contaminated land, but there was no follow through from New York's senator.

When the state tested trout and yellow perch from Seneca Lake for PFOS in 2020, almost all the fish were found to be contaminated at hundreds of times the state's enforceable limit. 79 percent of the fish exceeded 2,000 parts per trillion. Nearly all the rest were found to contain PFOS at 15,000 parts per trillion. The state's current guidance is ten parts per trillion.


The Seneca Meadows landfill, located in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of American Women's Rights, is the largest of 27 landfills in New York State. It is permitted to accept 6,000 tons of waste and produces up to 200,000 gallons of polluted leachate – formed when rainwater filters through waste – per day. A quarter of the landfill – which stands at nearly 30 stories tall – is trash from NYC, followed by four other states.

Seneca Meadows was previously required to stop receiving waste and halt operations by December 31, 2025. However, Waste Connections, the Texas based parent company of Seneca Meadows Inc., spent around $200,000 in 2021 promoting pro-landfill candidates who won seats in Town Board and County races and are now supporting the Valley Infill, SMI's planned seven-story high expansion. The expansion would keep the landfill operating through 2040 with allowable dumping on the Valley Infill (the former toxic Tantalo superfund site), rising another 70 feet into the viewscape. Even with the planned closure in 2025, the mountain of garbage promises years of problems and remediation that could take generations to mitigate.

Leachate and wastewater runoff from the landfill contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can cause widespread contamination of drinking water and harmful health impacts. Landfills are one of four major sources of PFAS, and landfills account for 17 percent of total methane emissions.

SMI is located two miles from Cayuga-Seneca Canal and three miles from every school in Seneca Falls and Waterloo, potentially exposing students to airborne particulates and unseen gasses known to contribute to respiratory illness, asthma, and migraine headaches. The landfill cannot process all of the methane that is generated and is forced to burn almost a billion cubic feet per year in 5 flares, contributing to climate change.

SMI is harming the Finger Lakes' natural resources that have led to the region being under consideration for a National Heritage Area Designation, and which the $3 billion, 60,000-employee wine and agritourism economy relies on. The odor from the landfill can be smelled from miles away, including at Thruway exit 41, the northern gateway to the Finger Lakes. Large, sustainable employers in the area are finding it difficult to recruit and retain employees, because nobody wants to raise a family near a dangerous landfill.

SMI's expansion is also at odds with the overwhelmingly popular amendment to the New York state constitution passed last year, which guarantees every New Yorker the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment.

A recent Rockefeller Institute policy brief showed that New York is one of nine states that falls well short of the EPA guidance on enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS.

The "PFAS Surface Water Discharge Disclosure Act" – introduced by Senator May and Assembly Member Kelles last year – would require annual testing for all facilities permitted to discharge water. There are no federal or state regulations currently requiring PFAS disclosures from all facilities that might be discharging it.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos recently tweeted about his agency's intentions to "better serve disadvantaged communities all across New York," which should include SMI. According to the draft criteria of the Climate Justice Working Group – established by the Climate Act – there are five disadvantaged communities in Seneca County.

About Seneca Lake Guardian

Seneca Lake Guardian is a New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation with 501(c)(3) and is dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the Finger Lakes, its residents and visitors, its rural community character, and its agricultural and tourist related businesses through public education, citizen participation, engagement with decision makers, and networking with like-minded organizations.

About Food & Water Watch

Food & Water Watch mobilizes people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people's health, communities and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests. Learn more at https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/.