Rensselaer Environmental Coalition
PO Box 228
Rensselaer, NY 12144
February 24, 2021
Commissioner Basil Seggos
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
Albany, NY 12233-0001
Dear Commissioner Seggos,
RE: PFAS and related issues at Dunn C&D landfill, Rensselaer, NY
Dear Commissioner Seggos,
We received a letter dated January 22, 2021 from Acting Region 4 Director Anthony Luisi in reply to our October 30, 2020 letter to you. This reply is a collaborative effort between Kyla Bennett, Environmental Scientist at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Judith A. Enck, Former EPA Regional Administrator, and members of the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition (REC). PEER and Judith Enck are both advisors to REC. While we appreciate the response, we remain concerned about the per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination emanating from the S.A. Dunn & Company Construction and Demolition landfill (hereafter referred to as “Dunn landfill”). PFAS in landfill leachate is a major concern that regulatory agencies are not effectively addressing.
We first identified PFAS at three locations on the periphery of the landfill and PEER reported the findings to you and Chief of Staff Mahar in a March 13, 2020 correspondence, which included the complete test summary from Lancaster Laboratories Environmental. REC followed up with you and Mr. Mahar on the PEER report in a March 20, 2020 letter. The DEC dismissed all of this as fear mongering. To the contrary, we believe that these test results are highly concerning. In their March 13 correspondence PEER stated:
Between the possibility of an airborne threat and the near certainty that millions of gallons of leachate from the landfill likely contain significantly more PFAS contamination, action by the DEC is necessary. The leachate for this landfill must be tested and an examination should be conducted to ensure that prohibited items are not being disposed of within it.
It is inexcusable that the Dunn landfill is accepting waste that it is not supposed to be accepting, and that this waste is contaminating a creek that is a tributary to the Hudson River. Seven communities get their drinking water from the Hudson, and PFAS is a carcinogen. We therefore urge the DEC to:
1) continue to test the leachate from the Dunn Landfill for PFAS;
2) ensure that the landfill is not accepting waste containing PFAS, such as carpets and car seats;
3) test the effluent from the Albany County WWTP for PFAS; and
4) take enforcement action against the landfill and consider closing it once and for all.
Mr. Luisi’s letter indicates that carpeting is being accepted at the landfill. Carpeting is specifically prohibited in the permit for the landfill’s operation. Mr. Luisi’s letter also seems to indicate that it is inevitable that products containing PFAS chemicals will enter the landfill. The letter confirms that PFOA materials are accepted by Dunn, PFOAs are in the landfill, are in the leachate, and are present in higher concentrations downstream than upstream. This information indicates that it is more important than ever that DEC conduct unannounced inspections of what is being delivered to the landfill. Related to this we just received a response to a FOIL. It gave us information that since the landfill opened there have only been four(4) reports of unauthorized materials. This fact alone should raise questions about the quality and frequency of inspections. Mr. Luisi’s letter also emphasizes the importance of the container system at the landfill. The question remains of how these contaminants are being found near the landfill if the system is not damaged in some way. Is the leachate collection pond secure from leaks? Is it ever drained and inspected? What happens when no one is working and the pond can overflow?
Mr. Luisi’s letter refers to recent revisions to DEC’s Part 360 solid waste regulations requiring semi-annual landfill leachate sampling to include emerging contaminants like PFAS. We could not find specific reference to this requirement and would appreciate receiving a copy of those requirements. We do not agree that annual or semi-annual testing is a satisfactory solution to this situation as will be explained further in this letter.
Since the letter also indicates your agency’s commitment “to identifying and prioritizing the management of PFAS-containing wastes through treatment and disposal methods other than landfilling,” we would very much additional information regarding what are these other treatment and disposal methods.
We are also concerned that the tests were conducted by employees of the landfill, and as far as we know, no DEC observers were present. Given the importance of these tests, we believe caution and involvement by DEC is the responsible action to take.
Our additional concerns are set forth below.
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) claims it is using the “best available science,” but it is not. DEC’s letter states that the “State continues to use the best available science to test for … [PFAS] at facilities like the Dunn landfill. As you are aware, the phrase “best available science” is not consistently defined in state or federal laws and regulations. However, the “best available science” standard should go beyond application of the scientific method and using the most accurate tests with low detection limits. In this particular case, it appears that DEC measured PFAS levels in one stream at two locations: one upstream from the Dunn landfill, and the second downstream. In order to be rigorous in testing, we maintain that single location testing upstream and downstream is not a satisfactory approach. It is also not clear from the letter whether the samples were collected on the same day, but both samples were collected in March of 2020.
As you are aware, taking one water sample on one day to test for PFAS only gives you a snapshot of contamination on that day. PFAS levels will vary depending on precipitation, weather, and time of year. In order to get a better understanding of PFAS contamination in surface waters adjacent to the Dunn landfill, more than one sample needs to be tested. In fact, REC’s testing showed levels higher than what DEC found, and are indicative of how PFAS levels can vary over time. As such, we believe that the “best available science” standard would require more consistent sampling, and definitely more than one sample on one day.
The DEC uses the incorrect standard for determining “risk.” The opening paragraph of DEC’s letter states, “the sampling results collected to-date in and around the Dunn landfill do not demonstrate any adverse effect from the facility to any drinking water supplies nor do these samples show potential exposure risks to PFAS compounds from this facility.” The stream DEC tested is not a drinking water supply. However, the PFAS-laden leachate from Dunn landfill is shipped to the Albany County Water Purification District, and that plant “treats” the leachate and discharges it to the Hudson River, which is a drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. In addition as you are certainly aware, the Colonie and Albany County landfills also bring leachate to the same wastewater treatment plant. Since these are municipal solid waste landfills it is likely that the PFAS content is even more hazardous than that coming from the Dunn Landfill. Since effluent from wastewater treatment plants often have higher levels of PFAS than influent, it is undeniable that the addition of the PFAs-contaminated water will have an “adverse effect” upon the Hudson River. That effect has not yet been quantified, but DEC should be testing the effluent from the Albany County Water Purification District in order to understand what impact the Dunn and other landfill leachate might be having on the Hudson River.
Moreover, the legal standard is not whether the PFAS is having an “adverse effect … to any drinking water supplies.” Rather, in January of 2020, New York issued PFAS Guidance to establish procedures for sampling PFAS, and for determining if PFAS is a contaminant of concern for a particular site requiring remediation. That guidance states, “PFAS should be further assessed and considered as a potential contaminant of concern in groundwater or surface water if PFOA or PFOS is detected in any water sample at or above 10 ng/L (ppt).” DEC’s sampling results do not show a measurement of PFOA or PFOS over 10 ppt, but the samples taken by REC do. Specifically, at Site B, near where the Quackenderry Creek enters a residential neighborhood, we found 12 ppt of PFOA in a small stream roughly 100’ east of the dead end of John Street, past the intersection of 6th Street (see location in Figure 1, attached). Note that we also measured 9.1 ppt of PFOS at the same location, which is close to the 10 ppt limit.
- Guidelines for Sampling and Analysis of PFAS Under NYSDEC’s Part 375 Remedial Program.
- Id. at 2.
- We understand that our tests were also only a snapshot of PFAS contamination on a single day; however, our results did show a measurement over 10 ppt, which indicates the necessity of additional testing.
Therefore, we urge DEC to monitor surface waters in more than just one location, and to set up a testing schedule to test several surface waters around the landfill at least monthly throughout the year. In addition, the test results should be made available on a publicly facing website so that citizens can be informed about what is occurring at the landfill. These results should not have to be the subject of a FOIL request that takes months for a response. This serious issue deserves transparency from government.
The high levels of PFBA are of concern. DEC also found between 65 and 370 ppt of PFBA in leachate from the Dunn landfill. Recent research has shown that PFBA in particular can lead to more severe cases of Covid-19. As such, even though DEC does not regulate PFBA levels, it is prudent to minimize exposure to this PFAS given the severity of the pandemic.
Conclusion. REC appreciates DEC’s testing of both the Dunn landfill leachate, and one of the surrounding surface waters, but we believe that the testing is inadequate. Given our own test results showing that PFOA levels were greater than 10 ppt, we urge you to test additional surface waters around the landfill, and to test them repeatedly throughout the year.
We also wish to emphasize that the operating permit for the Dunn Landfill is up for renewal in July 2022. Since the discovery of PFAS at the landfill in the leachate and in the surface-waters is a new development of great concern to the community we request the entire re-permitting process be opened to allow public input and scrutiny. This means complete transparency from now to the point of the permit renewal application and throughout the entire process. The location of the Dunn Landfill in a residential community and next door to a public school certainly requires increased scrutiny and care especially now with the knowledge of PFAS hazards and increased risk of Covid-19. The public needs to be informed, involved and protected.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Rensselaer Environmental Coalition
cc. Governor Andrew Cuomo
Carrie Gallagher, Acting Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment
Electronic copies to:
Anthony Luisi, Acting Regional Director
Kyla Bennett, PEER
Judith A. Enck, Former EPA Regional Administrator
Monica Gray, The Sierra Club
Rebecca Martin, River Keeper
NYS Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, President Pro Tempore and Majority Leader
NYS Senator Todd Kaminsky, Chair, Environmental Conservation Committee
NYS Assemblyman Carl Heastie, Speaker of the House
NYS Assemblyman Steven C. Englebright, Chair Environmental Conservation Committee
Mayor Stammel, City of Rensselaer
Steven McLaughlin, Rensselaer County Executive
Daniel McCoy, Albany County Executive
Jack Conway, Supervisor, Town of East Greenbush
Assemblyman John T. McDonald III
Assemblyman Jacob Ashby
Senator Neil D. Breslin