Decades of Delay in Landfill Cleanup Prompts Lawsuit by Staten Islanders

Fed up with years of inaction, residents will sue to clean up site of illegal toxic waste dumping


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

Staten Island residents will sue the city of New York to force the cleanup of an abandoned toxic waste dump in the Great Kills section of the borough.

The public interest law firm Earthjustice filed preliminary legal papers today on behalf of the Northern Great Kills Civic Association. The association represents residents living near the 272-acre Brookfield landfill.

See a map of the landfill location with local schools marked

Between 1974 and 1980, tens of thousands of gallons of toxic industrial waste were dumped illegally at the landfill, intended only for municipal solid waste. It was one of five city landfills involved in a 1982 federal investigation into illegal dumping which sent a city Department of Sanitation official and a hauling operator to prison.

“Those convicted of dumping this toxic waste have long ago served their time. But 30 years later, their poisonous legacy remains,” said Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell. “We’re taking legal action to make sure this mess is cleaned up and the residents of Great Kills can reclaim their community from contamination.”

In 1990, the city announced it had set aside $600 million for the cleanup of the five city landfills involved in the 1982 scandal. While cleanup has concluded at the Pelham Bay landfill in the Bronx, the Edgemere landfill in Queens, and the Fountain Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue landfills in Brooklyn, work still has yet to begin on the Brookfield site in Staten Island.

“We have been patient, cooperating in good faith with officials who have offered us nothing but empty promises,” said John Felicetti, co-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Brookfield Remediation. “At first there was money but no cleanup plan. Now we have a plan, but no money. While the city and state agencies bicker about who should foot the cleanup bill, our community is suffering.”

At the time the scandal was uncovered, it was compared to the infamous incident at Love Canal which gave rise to the nation’s environmental health movement.

“We’ve watched as landfills in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens have been cleaned up. Decades have gone by and we’re still waiting for our community to be cleaned up,” said Geri Kelsch, president of the Northern Great Kills Civic Association. “I was still a child when this illegal dumping was uncovered. Now I have children of my own. We’re fighting so a third generation of Staten Islanders won’t have to live with poison in their backyard.”

Though far smaller than the borough’s infamous Fresh Kills landfill, the Brookfield site poses nearly as great a threat to the environment as its 3,000-acre counterpart, because of the toxic combination of cyanide, lead, arsenic, and other contaminants leaking from the landfill.

The federal investigation found that somewhere between 10,000 gallons a week to 50,000 gallons a day of hazardous waste were dumped illegally at the site during its last six years of operation. The oil, sludge, metal plating, lacquers and solvents, which came from manufacturers throughout the region, remain buried on the site and feed the 95,000 gallons of contaminated water which leak from the site each day into groundwater and the Richmond Creek.

There are nearly 10,000 people living within a quarter-mile of the landfill. In addition, four schools and one church — the Tanglewood Nursery School, P.S. 37, P.S. 32, St. Patrick’s School, and St. Patrick’s church — are within a quarter mile of the landfill.

Staten Island Borough President James P. Molinaro, who has long called for the landfill’s cleanup, expressed support for the litigation. In April, he sent a letter to Governor David Paterson expressing outrage and concern about the cleanup delay. In response to the Molinaro’s letter, residents sent over 500 letters of support to the borough president’s office, prompting the Northern Great Kills Civic Association to take legal action. Assemblyman Louis R. Tobacco and Councilman Vincent M. Ignizio have also pressed for action at the Brookfield site and spoke up in favor of today’s legal action.

Earthjustice filed a “notice of intent to sue” on behalf of the Northern Great Kills Civic Association today. Under federal environmental law, such notice must be filed at least 90 days before filing suit. The groups will be filing their lawsuit in federal district court under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which gives citizens the right to sue past or present operators of hazardous waste facilities that continue to pose a threat to public health or the environment. The city of New York operated the landfill from 1966 to 1980.

Read the notice of intent to sue (PDF)

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