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Opponents Seek Further Testing As DEC Considers Colonie Landfill Application

Lucas Willard

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is reviewing an application for an expansion of the Colonie Landfill. But officials from neighboring communities and environmental advocates say more research is needed before any expansion plan is approved.

The Colonie Landfill sits beside the Mohawk River in northern Albany County and is running out of space.

In a process that began in 2014, the Town of Colonie and the landfill operator are seeking an expansion. To do that, they need to obtain the necessary permits to keep the roughly 200-acre landfill open. The current permits expired at the end of 2017.

On Wednesday, the town submitted its environmental impact statement for the project to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Colonie Public Works Engineer Matt McGarry said public comments have been taken into consideration.

“We’ve gotten to the point where the Department has considered our environmental impact statement to be complete in that we have considered all the issues and substantially addressed all the issues that were raised both by the department and by public comment,” said McGarry. 

The expansion plan has undergone some changes. For example, a proposed increase in height of 87 feet was reduced to 37 feet. A 100-yard buffer from the Mohawk River has been increased to 500 yards.

But leaders of surrounding communities remain concerned.

Waterford Town Supervisor Jack Lawler is opposed to the expansion.

“Those revisions still provide the Town of Colonie with 80 percent of the expansion that they requested. And it keeps that dump open for an additional 15 to 20 years,” said Lawler.

Lawler and Halfmoon Town Supervisor Kevin Tollisen have raised environmental concerns and have partnered with environmental group Riverkeeper to test for toxic chemicals that may be leaking from the landfill into the river.

Waterford enlisted an environmental engineering firm to analyze water samples taken from the Mohawk and two storm drains between the landfill and the river. They discovered the presence of the chemical PFOA, the same believed-to-be cancer-causing compound at the center of remediation efforts in Hoosick Falls and other upstate communities. Concentrations at storm drains were reported at up to 68.3 parts per trillion, while Mohawk River samples were significantly lower at 1 to 2 ppt.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level for PFOA in drinking water is 70 parts per trillion.

The town of Colonie and another firm then took their own samples and found PFOA concentrations at similarly low levels in the river, at 2 to 3 ppt.

This week, as Colonie submitted its environmental impact statement for consideration, Riverkeeper released results of samples taken from outfalls and seeps adjacent to the landfill. The samples were analyzed at Cornell University, with PFOA concentrations reading as high as 519 parts per trillion.

Officials with New York state say they will continue to investigate.

Erica Ringewald is a spokesperson for the DEC.

“DEC and DOH will continue to evaluate the recent reports and in an effort to further ensure there are no threats to public health or the environment, the state will conduct additional sampling and advance any actions if necessary.”

DEC says state-certified testing of the water supply for the nearby City of Cohoes, which is downstream from the landfill, conducted as recently as last year showed PFOA at or below non-detect levels.

DEC is reviewing the testing data gathered by Riverkeeper but also points out that it comes from an non-state certified lab.

Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Captain John Lipscomb says the testing conducted with Cornell does not mean that the matter is sealed but does suggest more research is needed.

“If the state wants a certified lab to do the work, well then have a certified lab do the work. But deciding that data collected in the middle of the river is sufficient to indicate that the landfill is contaminating the river isn’t good enough,” said Lipscomb.

DEC has must wait at least 10 days to issue a decision on the project application.

Meanwhile, Waterford’s Lawler says he and local officials are still seeking an adjudicatory hearing on DEC’s review process of the Colonie Landfill and will pursue it in court if necessary.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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