Action to fence off toxic Wheatfield landfill

A state senator lashed out Monday at the Department of Environmental Conservation for its failure to protect residents living by a landfill in Wheatfield that was recently declared a Superfund site.

In responding to a Feb. 10 story by Investigative Post, Sen. Robert Ortt questioned how the state DEC could insist for 25 years that the landfill off Nash Road did not pose a significant risk to unsuspecting adults and children who have been using the property for recreation. The senator said it made little sense when the DEC in December 2015 reversed itself by declaring the landfill a Superfund site, even after it had removed 80 truckloads of previously buried Love Canal waste. Other dangerous chemicals remain buried at the site.

Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, criticized the agency for avoiding questions from the public and the press and wrote a scathing letter to Basil Segos, the DEC’s acting commissioner, two days after the Investigative Post story broadcast and published.

“I have a hard time drawing a conclusion other than this was a complete dereliction of duty by the DEC for 25 years,” Ortt wrote to Segos. “For 25 years, the DEC ignored the repeated calls of concern from these Western New York communities.”

Ortt said during an interview Monday that he has secured $75,000 in capital funds to pay for a portion of the cost to fence the property.

“To leave it open to the public to just go back there at this point would be unconscionable,” Ortt said.

The Town of Wheatfield board voted Monday night to solicit bids for the fence. Wheatfield Supervisor Robert Cliffe said he had received estimates of more than $100,000 to fence off the landfill.

The Love Canal waste was dug up during the construction of the LaSalle Expressway in Niagara Falls and eventually buried in a trench at the Wheatfield landfill in the summer of 1968.

Since 1989, the DEC has insisted that the closed landfill near the Wheatfield-North Tonawanda border posed no significant health threat to nearby residents. But the agency commissioned a report that same year that recommended, at a minimum, the landfill be capped to contain the contaminants and fenced to limit public access. Officials from both the state and the Town of Wheatfield, which owns the property, ignored those recommendations.

The DEC in 2014 convinced Glenn Springs Holdings, an affiliate of Occidental Chemical Corp., to pay for the removal of the Love Canal waste. But the DEC said that further tests showed the property remains contaminated from its use as a municipal and industrial landfill from 1964 to 1968, when it closed.

DEC officials did not fence off the property even though agency officials were aware that adults and children were using the landfill for recreation.

The situation has current and former residents worried and wondering if any of the health problems they suffer from could have been caused by what was—and remains—buried near their homes. One resident said she has compiled a list of 17 residents who have been diagnosed with cancer over the years in her immediate neighborhood.

“Knowing what we know now, we cannot in good conscious just let that exist the way it does,” Ortt said. “You can’t have people riding dirt bikes and ATVs there, which churns up the ground, where all the contamination is.”

Not only is Ortt demanding the landfill get fenced, but he said he will press the DEC to move faster on remediating the property and testing nearby residential yards for contamination.

“I was told flat out they don’t know the extent of contamination,” Ortt said.

“It’s on me and it’s on other leaders to hold the DEC accountable for what happens there going forward,” he said.