Stop the stink in Endicott

August 1, 2016

On the surface, Endicott, New York, is a picturesque village best known as the birthplace of IBM. But for decades, IBM used tens of thousands of gallons of chemical solvents, which it disposed of by pouring them down the drain or into leaky underground tanks. Now, those toxic chemicals--in particular, trichloroethane (TCE)--are polluting the aquifer and reappearing as toxic vapors in homes and other buildings built within the 300-acre zone known to residents as The Plume.

In the early 1990s, some 12,000 IBM employees still worked in Endicott. Now, IBM has sold off its buildings and leases space for its 700 or so remaining workers there. Already reeling from the economic and environmental damage left in the wake of IBM's departure, elected officials appear to be courting the waste treatment industry to provide employment for the remaining residents. In particular, officials of Broome County, where Endicott is located, are contracting for the delivery and disposal of leachate, which is water runoff from landfills that dissolves and carries with it pollutants and toxins from the landfill. The state of New York requires landfill operators to collect and dispose of leachate in an approved manner.

In an article first published at The People's Press, Joan McKiernan reports on the efforts by Endicott residents to stop endangering their health by using their community as a dumping ground for toxic waste.

DUMPING WASTE in the river? Can't imagine it happening?

Think again: over 80,000 gallons of highly toxic waste is going into the Susquehanna River at Endicott, New York, every day.

Worse again, it is going into the river just upstream from the village's drinking water supply.

You may think that the government would never allow that. Wrong again. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has let this happen since 2011.

And now, since the waste company's permit expired a few years ago, the DEC has started a re-permitting process, and we, the public, finally have a chance to comment on their plans. Endicott residents have experienced the stink of the waste processing; now they will experience the reek of state and local government secrecy, negligence, and lack of concern for the health of people in Broome County.

Making matters worse, County Executive Debbie Preston, having failed in her attempt to bring fracking to Broome, is now building a new pipeline, not for gas, but for waste to be shipped to Endicott to end up in the river next to the drinking water. It seems that local officials think waste treatment and dumping is their solution to the long-term loss of jobs that these towns have experienced. We need to tell them we need jobs, not waste!

Anti-pollution activist Mark Bacon in front of his Endicott, New York, store
Anti-pollution activist Mark Bacon in front of his Endicott, New York, store (Concerned Citizens of Endicott)

Mark Bacon has been fighting pollution in Endicott since Spitzer was governor in 2007-08. His cafe on North Street is just opposite the old IBM site. Once there were jobs there. "Now I am watching these big trucks passing here bringing waste to destroy our water," Mark said.

He was referring to the 18-wheel tanker trucks rolling through the village. Passing homes, schools and businesses, they bring waste for treatment at the IBM waste treatment facility, which is now owed by Huron Campus/i3 Electronics. Mark first got involved in protesting against IBM's toxic "Plume," which, it was discovered in 2002, has polluted much of the village. Now, the windows of Mark's cafe are covered with protest leaflets against the waste.

Local activists have pointed to the very old pipes and the rusty storm drains that are used. "This process will release tons of toxins into the river via the storm sewer (which overflows during rainfalls)," Jim Little believes. "Communities downstream drink this water, not to mention the effect to aquatic life."

What you can do

Tell the DEC to end waste dumping in Endicott. Write to Teresa Diehsner, 615 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233, or send her an e-mail.

THE STORY of the state's involvement in this issue is one of secrecy and deceit. The first permit for the company was for a secret, pilot program. After a valve on a rusty holding tank broke in April 2013, dumping at least 17,000 gallons of raw, unprocessed leachate into the storm drains which feed the Susquehanna, local activists began asking serious questions. Environmental activist, Bill Huston, got involved in trying to find out what was going on. He followed the trucks, as he explains at his blog, to find out what was being brought into Endicott.

He found out that the trucks are bringing in landfill leachate. This is the leftover dirt and sludge runoff created after rainfall has permeated through landfills. The resulting sludge gathers from all the toxic waste and pollutants that are in the landfill.

One of the landfills that send leachate to Endicott is Seneca Meadows, which is the largest landfill in New York State. Between July 2010 and December 2011, Seneca Meadows received about 9,000 tons of drill cuttings from Pennsylvania fracking operations, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Drill cuttings from the Marcellus Shale are known to be radioactive. Is the DEC checking for radioactivity in this waste? They say they are not.

Activists have met with DEC officials, who have explained that the DEC depends on self-reporting. For example, they state that it is up to landfill operators to check for radioactivity.

Researchers and activists have now found out that since 2014 there has been a substantive change in the quality and quantity of toxic waste being sent to Endicott. There has been a seven times increase in the amount of leachate. And another waste product, reverse osmosis concentrate, is being sent there as well, a 15-times increase since 2014.

The massive scale-up in waste increases the possibility of accidents due to the heavy truck traffic carrying toxic wastes past residential and business areas. It appears that the company and the DEC wanted this massive scale-up to happen without anybody, particularly those living in Endicott, noticing.

Activists were excited when the DEC folded to their pressure, extending the comment period and agreeing to hold public meetings. However, the Concerned Citizens of Endicott (CCoE) was more cautious. "While we are pleased in this small delay in the rubber-stamping of this permit, we see (and smell) the trucks of toxic landfill leachate are still coming," said the group in a statement.

"I'll be happy when the trucks stop bringing poisons to a village which is already a TCE-contaminated Superfund site [as a result of IBM's decades of pollution]," said Mark Bacon of CCoE.

First published at The People's Press.

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