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Debate continues over future of embattled Dunn landfill in Rensselaer

WAMC File Photo

Since the S.A. Dunn Landfill opened in 2015 on the site of a former sand and gravel mine bordering Rensselaer City schools, there have been concerns about student health and safety, with complaints of foul odors at the schools and noisy heavy truck traffic spewing air pollution through neighborhoods along the route to the site.

In March, The Rensselaer School Board joined the call to shut the landfill down, and recently held a public informational meeting with the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition at Rensselaer High School on Dunn's permit renewal process, aimed at getting more people to participate. The landfill's existing permit expires in mid-July.

During the meeting that lasted over two hours, New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Director Kyla Bennett told attendees alarming levels of PFOA and PFOS are coming off the landfill.

"Which is being breathed by the residents and the people who go to that school," said Bennett. "It's likely it's in the soil. So if you're growing vegetables, I don't think I would eat them. It's in the water. Remember the Hudson River, the effluent from the wastewater treatment plant in Albany goes into the Hudson River and that provides drinking water supply for 500,000 people. ... Dunn landfill is a source of PFAS for both the city of Rensselaer and the Hudson River. The routes of exposure may include dust, the soil, the water, vegetables and fruits that you grow kids playing in the soil or sandboxes whatever around that area, you will be exposed. “

A woman who answered the phone at Dunn Landfill said the company had no comment on the meeting.

Additional information about the PFAS study at the Dunn Landfill can be found at: https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/117071.html#PFAS

Todd Rutecki, with PARK, Parents Association for Rensselaer Kids, says the marathon session didn't break any new ground, but says landfill opponents are staying organized.

"It was helpful if you're, if you were uninformed, it was repetitious if you've been following the story... We know and I think everybody would agree that the landfill should have never been placed where it was," said Rutecki. "Our group has been focused primarily on safety. And the safest landfill is the one that was never built. The next safest is the one that is closed. We think that the data is on our side to get it closed. And these decisions follow a rule of law. And we've been focused on the data. And, you know, the DEC has a mountain of data that they've collected over a few years. We've reviewed it internally, we've asked outside counsel, we believe that we can make a case and public hearing during the review. And we believe that the data is on our side, in terms of achieving our objectives."

Rutecki says parents welcome the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation review of the landfill’s operating permit. He says opponents want Dunn closed permanently. The question is when.

"I think it will take as long as it takes," Rutecki said. "You know, there were some delays in terms of the application process, some reviews. I wouldn't expect to hear your final answer until later this year. I think these things go as I have been telling a few folks. It's a process, not an event. As long as folks in the community, our families, our parents have an opportunity to speak and make sure their voices have heard. We think we can make a good case to have the landfill closed."

In response to a request for comment, DEC sent a statement via email, which says in part "The Dunn landfill must operate according to DEC’s stringent permit conditions and other requirements DEC has put in place. In addition to DEC’s regular and off-hour inspections, the full-time on-site monitor, and ongoing air monitoring, the facility is required to cover construction and demolition waste daily. DEC will continue to provide strict oversight of operations at the facility to ensure public health and the environment are protected and we remain committed to working with the community to address their concerns."

S.A. Dunn & Company, LLC submitted it's renewal application to NYSDEC. The permit renewal will not change or expand its current mining or C&D operations. The application also includes a modification to the facility to include an earth berm along to the northern and eastern side of the site that will reduce its visibility from the north. Permit application documents are available for review at the site, the Rensselaer Public Library, the NYSDEC Region 4 offices or website (https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/117071.html#Permit) or by clicking on “Permit Renewal Application” above. An information session will be held on June 14, 2022 from 7PM to 9PM at the Rensselaer City School Auditorium for community members interested in hearing about the facility and the permit renewal process. The informational session will also be accessible virtually on June 14, 2022 from 7PM to 9PM at https://wasteconnections.zoom.us/j/91932452654 or by telephone at (929) 436-2866.

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.