Seneca Meadows looms large, both in physical stature and the ongoing risks it poses to our health and the environment. That risk is growing – Waste Connections, the Texas-based owner and operator, is seeking a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to extend operations until 2040 and grow its footprint by 47 acres and adding 70 feet of height to its already 30 stories high mountain of garbage-making it taller than the tallest building in the nearby City of Syracuse.
If approved, New Yorkers will pay the ultimate price as our health, economy and environment continue to deteriorate and we fall further from our climate goals.
I co-founded a small but mighty grassroots environmental organization that has been leading the fight against the landfill expansion plan. The concerns about odor management, degraded air and water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, unusually high lung cancer rates, negative impacts on the region’s agriculture and tourism economies, and much more cannot be ignored. The consequences of the 6,000 tons of garbage that are dumped on our town each day do not end with us – the landfill is bad for New York State as a whole.
Various towns and counties from all across New York State, including Tompkins, Schuyler, and Monroe counties, the City of Geneva, Skaneateles, and more, have filed resolutions to oppose the landfill’s expansion, and more than 40 State Legislators have signed letters urging the Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Hochul to oppose the expansion plan. Opposition across the state is mounting – now it’s time for our local elected leaders and agency officials to listen.
Waste Connections, which has enough money and resources to influence local elections and flood our local town boards with pro-landfill candidates, has tried to drown our voices. But it’s time our statewide elected officials represent their constituents, not a group of hand-picked landfill puppets.
In the Finger Lakes region alone, where our agriculture and tourism industry supports 60,000 jobs and generates $3 billion in economic activity annually, we rely on clean air and water to support our livelihoods. Closing Seneca Meadows would greatly benefit the businesses that have suffered from environmental degradation, or struggled to attract and retain employees due to proximity to the landfill. Not only would our economy benefit greatly, but closing the landfill means we can begin down a path to healthier living and clean, fresh air without heaps of trash exposing us to life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer.
The severity of this issue cannot be overstated. With noxious odors and other compounds emitted by the landfill, heavy diesel exhaust, dust, and particulate matter from hundreds of massive trucks transporting trash, those living closest to the landfill are in constant peril. We are seeing these consequences play out in real-time – the Department of Health declared a lung cancer cluster in Seneca County, with cases surpassing state and national averages by 31% and 34%, respectively.
The wastewater from the landfill contains hazardous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These “forever-chemicals” can infiltrate drinking water supplies and contribute to severe health impacts, including cancer, liver damage, and decreased fertility.
The staggering 66 million gallons of PFAS-laden wastewater produced annually by Seneca Meadows alone is shipped all around the state, and these communities that are accepting it do not have the capacity or the technology to remove the toxins from the leachate, spreading the harmful health impacts far and wide.
Seneca Meadows is responsible for billions of cubic feet of fugitive emissions annually, including more than 350,000 metric tons of methane – a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Allowing the landfill to continue its operations, and grow its footprint, sets New York back on its ambitious climate goals. The state’s nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act calls for 100% net emissions reductions by 2050. This greenhouse gas-emitting behemoth certainly does not support that goal.
The dump has done irreparable damage to our communities and our environment. It’s time for Governor Hochul and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to take a hard look at Seneca Meadows and recognize the dump for what it is – a symbol of unsustainable, unhealthy, polluting practices that should not define New York and the Finger Lakes’ future.
To successfully close the landfill for good, we need to rethink our throw-away culture and the staggering amount of waste we produce. A zero-waste economy would be a win-win for New Yorkers – creating job opportunities, stimulating economic growth, and preserving the health and longevity of our environment. Let’s make good on our commitment to a cleaner and healthier future for New York.