Wheatfield landfill subject of lawsuit

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

Current and former residents of neighborhoods near a toxic landfill allege in a lawsuit that “ultra-hazardous” chemicals migrated onto their properties, making some of them sick.

The 65 plaintiffs contend the landfill off Nash Road, which is owned by the Town of Wheatfield, is the source of the contamination. Many of plaintiffs are or were residents of North Tonawanda, which borders the landfill. They are asking the state Supreme Court in Niagara County to award them damages, including money to cover medical care, because of what they claim is the town’s negligence. The lawsuit names the Town of Wheatfield and seven companies as defendants: Occidental Chemical Corp., Bell Helicopter Textron, Saint-Gobain Abrasives, Roe Consolidated Holdings, Graphite Specialties, Crown Beverage Packaging and Grief Inc.

Location of landfill

Location of landfill owned by Town of Wheatfield.

For over a year, I’ve documented the dangers at this property.

The landfill held Love Canal waste from 1968 until 2015, when the state had it removed. That same year, the Department of Environmental Conservation reclassified the property as a state Superfund site. The designation means the landfill poses a significant threat to the public and environment. The DEC’s decision to deem the landfill a threat after it had the Love Canal waste removed rattled residents and confused town officials.

“You get rid of all the Love Canal material and make it worse? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Wheatfield Supervisor Robert Cliffe in February 2016.

The documents I reviewed showed it was common knowledge among DEC and town officials that residents, including children, used the property for recreation. After all, much of the property resembles a park, with trails, brush and trees. There is neither a fence nor any signs that warn people about the landfill, even though it is next to a large residential neighborhood.

The lawsuit, filed over the weekend, alleges the town ignored advice from experts to add safety measures at the landfill that would have protected neighbors.

Attorneys who filed the lawsuit said soil tests they conducted on the plaintiffs’ properties showed the presence of several toxic chemicals.

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The town plans to fence in the landfill to keep people off the property sometime this year.

The DEC will also begin studying the extent of the contamination to determine if chemicals did migrate from the landfill. DEC officials said the businesses that dumped waste at the landfill, some of which are named as defendants in the lawsuit, declined to help pay for the study.