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Rensselaer Residents Seek Answers About Dunn Landfill

Residents of the City of Rensselaer packed a school cafeteria Thursday night to question state officials about the Dunn landfill.

Visible across the Hudson from the City of Albany and directly beside Rensselaer City School District playing fields, the SA Dunn Landfill is drawing the ire of neighbors.

Ruth Seaburg lives just two blocks away from the school, where the public information session was held Thursday night.

“We can’t even have people over. We can’t eat on our deck because the stench is so bad,” said Ruth Seaburg.

Residents spoke to officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health about their concerns with the landfill: truck traffic, the rotten-egg-like odor, and dust were common complaints.

Dan Wilson and Bill Mahan have family members buried in the cemetery directly across the street from the landfill.

“My grandmother’s grave has got so much dust on it, I’ve got to go up there and clean it off all the time. Everything that’s airborne is making me sick, burning my throat…”

“My family’s all up there also. Everything is stuck on the fences. Garbage bags, everything…”

“…Everything. Garbage everywhere.”

Rensselaer High School senior Noah Mujalli wanted to know how the hulking dump is affecting his fellow students.

“Well, I wanted to see if there was any long-term exposure to hydrogen sulfide pulmonary effects that’s affecting students of the high school, and just the general school. I also wanted to know why the hydrogen sulfide emission is not being let out into the public. So why isn’t it being given to the residents of Rensselaer? But they’re telling us we that should go to sleep at night knowing that we’re safe,” said Mujalli.

The hydrogen sulfide emissions are likely caused by the decomposition of drywall. The Dunn landfill accepts construction and demolition debris.

Department of Health spokesman Gary Holmes said the odor is not likely to cause illness.

“We’re confident with what we’ve reviewed to date here, and residents should feel confident that this isn’t imposing health concerns. Some of the smells that we’re hearing, certainly anecdotally tonight, can impact people differently and certainly we understand those concerns. But what we’ve reviewed, we feel very confident that this is a situation that we will continue to monitor,” said Holmes.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has taken several actions against the operators of the landfill. Sean Mahar is DEC chief of staff…

“We have a fulltime onsite monitor that we require the facility to have, that’s a third-party, independent monitor. We have regular DEC staff and officials that monitor and oversee this facility on a routine basis. We have air monitoring equipment around the landfill and here at the school. We also have dust and particulate matter monitoring here at the school, as well. So we have a really comprehensive understanding of how this facility is behaving. And anytime we find a violation, we’ve come down very hard on this facility, and you’ve seen us continually ratchet down that enforcement’ said Mahar.

Last week, SA Dunn & Company Division Landfill Manager Jeff Burrier distributed a letter to neighbors.

The letter outlines the actions taken and planned to address odor and environmental concerns in accordance with DEC.

The letter also touts the “positive economic impact we have on Rensselaer’s economy,” detailing employment, tax payments, and the recent agreement to provide $125,000 annually to the Rensselaer City School District.

The operators of the Dunn landfill also agreed with the city school district to construct a berm along the property to reduce visibility from the school.

Some residents were hoping for an auditorium-style information session with a live Q and A Thursday. The Department of Health’s Gary Holmes said more community dialogue is a future possibility.

“If more information, if additional data helps this community better understand or answer those concerns, then we’re happy to have those conversations and consider the logistics of that moving forward,” said Holmes.

The DEC is encouraging anyone with complaints about the landfill to call a hotline: 518-292-0449.

WAMC has reached out to the operators of the Dunn landfill for comment.

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