State's Largest Landfill Continues to Poison Water Across NY State
2022 annual report shows 62% of landfill's leachate gets shipped to Buffalo
SENECA FALLS, NY (05/02/2023) (readMedia)-- Every year Seneca Meadows – the state's largest landfill – is required to submit an annual report of its operations.
The report confirms that SMI continues to accept 6,000 tons of trash and produce nearly 200,000 gallons of contaminated leachate – formed when rainwater flows through waste – per day. This leachate contains PFAS, toxic chemicals that build up in the environment and our bodies instead of breaking down. According to the CDC, PFAS chemicals cause serious health problems like cancer, liver damage, and fertility issues. The impact of the landfill – owned by Texas-based, for-profit Waste Connections – on New Yorker's health is statewide. According to Seneca Meadows' annual report, the landfill produced 66 million gallons of leachate in 2022 which is distributed not just to Seneca Falls but also to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, and Steuben County, and the leachate eventually ends up in drinking water sources. Less than one fifth of the leachate is treated, the rest is trucked to communities across the state and to New Jersey. The attached chart from the 2022 annual report outlines where the leachate is going, but excludes information about where the concentrate, containing higher amounts of PFAS, is sent, nor was information regarding levels of PFAS in the leachate provided.
"Seneca Meadows landfill is driving a public health crisis across New York. Millions of gallons of leachate are trucked around our state every year, including to the Governor's home city of Buffalo. Watertown, Chittenango, and Steuben County also receive shipments of toxic, PFAS-laden leachate: these wastewater treatment plants are not required to test for, and don't have the mechanism for removing the PFAS. This landfill – over 30% of which is trash from New York City – is polluting our precious drinking water resources and promises decades of clean-up and remediation even after it is closed. Governor Hochul must shut this landfill down on schedule in 2025 as originally planned. We cannot leave our drinking water to the mercy of this Texas-based, for-profit operator," said Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of Seneca Lake Guardian.
There are no federal or state regulations currently requiring PFAS disclosures from all facilities that might be discharging it. This leaves municipalities in the dark about where PFAS contamination is coming from and prevents them from taking meaningful action to stop it. The "PFAS Surface Water Discharge Disclosure Act" (S227A/A3296) would require annual testing for all facilities permitted to discharge water. Landfill leachate is one of four major sources of PFAS contamination. Water expert and scientist Laura Orlando writes that understanding the sources and volume of PFAS entering New York's waterways is fundamental to solving this growing crisis.
- 62% of the leachate goes to Buffalo.
- Watertown receives more than 8 million gallons of leachate annually.
- Chittenango receives nearly a million gallons of leachate annually.
- Over 30% of the landfill is trash from New York City.
- 16% of the waste comes from out of state, a breakdown of which is attached.
- Less than 1% of the waste in the landfill originates from Seneca Falls.
- Nearly 11% of the landfill is waste from Massachusetts.
- Five other states make up over 5% of the landfill, including construction debris from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
- The landfill accepts nearly 5,600 tons of asbestos per year from Massachusetts and Canada.
- Less than 1/5th of the leachate is treated on site at SMI.
Seneca Meadows landfill is the largest of 27 landfills in New York State. The landfill accepts additional waste from 47 counties in NY State, four additional states, and Canada.
Leachate and wastewater runoff from the landfill contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can cause widespread contamination of drinking water and are documented to have harmful health impacts. The discharges from those plants flow into and potentially contaminate drinking water sources in municipalities across the state. The landfill, which is slated to close in 2025, has requested an expansion that would add another seven stories and an extension allowing them to operate through 2040.
In conjunction with the landfill, a Title V application has been submitted by Seneca Energy LLC to build out a pipeline that would monetarily incentivize Seneca Meadows to continue operating by taking the methane from the landfill, producing "renewable natural gas" and sending it through a pipeline- which completely conflicts with New York's bold climate law.
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) and, already 280 feet tall, 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.
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 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'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.
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.