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Meeting Tonight In Rensselaer Amid Continued Concerns Over Dunn Landfill Odors During Summer Heat

In Rensselaer , continued concerns over odors emanating from the Dunn Landfill in the city.

Nearby residents of the dump say they were sickened during last week's heat wave and fear a repeat with another round of high temperatures forecast this weekend. Actions taken so far by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have left activists like former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck scratching their heads.   "The Dunn Landfill in the city of Rensselaer has been operating since 2015 and the environmental damage has just been getting worse since then. I don't know how the State Department of Environmental Conservation could have possibly approved the siting of such a large and polluting landfill next to an operating public school.'

Enck says 100 trucks a day haul over 500,000 tons of waste a year to the Dunn site. Enck suggests the neighborhood's "low-income" status is a factor.   "If this landfill was in a more affluent community I think we would have seen the Cuomo Administration taking more aggressive enforcement actions than they've done."

Residents outlined their concerns in a letter sent to top DEC officials. Sean Mahar is DEC’s Chief of Staff:   "We do not tolerate any violations of New York Environmental Laws and anytime that there are violations or any issues we immediately investigate them and obviously take immediate and aggressive action to address those violations."

Mahar addressed the issue of heat-driven stench, explaining the site is continuously monitored for odors.    "We encourage people to continue to report anything like that so we can take any actions against the facility for any violations that we see."

Mahar admits response times vary depending on the day of the week and the time of the day.    "Every resident should know that if they register a complaint, DEC is on the scene investigating it."

He adds that wet sheetrock in the landfill releases hydrogen sulfide gas.   "As part of the dust control operation they do spray water on parts of the pile to cut down on dust, and that can increase the hydrogen sulfide odors as well."

Credit David Ellis
A child's car seat among the "construction debris" hauled by a truck that overturned en route to the Dunn Landfill in June.

To date more than $360,000 in penalties have been levied against the landfill. Neighbors are also looking for answers regarding a definition of "construction debris" after a dump truck headed for the landfill overturned on the Dunn Memorial bridge on June 12th. Photos of the spilled contents appeared on social media. Again, Enck:     "That truck had a fair amount of material that was not construction and demolition debris waste."

Mahar:   "We had investigators look at that traffic accident and were on the scene both from the spill response aspect but also looking at the contents that were in that truck. Everything we saw that day was consistent with construction and demolition debris that's typical of what you'd see based on wherever it is it was originating from."

Mahar couldn't say whether a DEC representative would attend tonight's public meeting at the Rensselaer Ambulance Garage, a presentation by landfill critic David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University at Albany.

Meanwhile, Rensselaer County Legislature Chairman Michael Stammel, a Republican, says the New York State Department of Health informed him that it reversed its decision to monitor the air quality in the city in the vicinity of the school. Stammel is also running for mayor.   "Either the residents, the taxpayers, will have to do it by doing the air monitoring and pay for it out of their own pocket with contractors, or else, you know, uh, I'm calling upon the school district and the city to join forces here along with the county and we'll pay for it altogether, if it's public safety that we're really concerned about, our students we're really concerned about, those people who are employed in the school district we're really concerned about, then air monitoring is something that we should be doing in order to protect ourselves from any unknown or known substances that may be in the landfill at this point."

Rensselaer Mayor Richard Mooney did not immediately return a call for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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