Lawsuit over Great Kills
The public interest law firm Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, demanding that New York City clean up an abandoned toxic waste dump in the Great Kills section on Staten Island. The suit [pdf] was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on behalf of the Northern Great Kills Civic Association. The association represents residents living near the 272-acre Brookfield landfill.
From 1974 to 1980, tens of thousands of gallons of toxic industrial waste were dumped illegally at the landfill, which was intended only for municipal solid waste. It was one of five city landfills involved in a 1982 federal investigation into illegal dumping.
As a result of the investigation, a Sanitation Department official, John Cassiliano, was convicted in 1982 of taking payoffs from toxic waste dumpers and of official misconduct. He was sentenced to one to three years in prison and fined $5,000 in 1983.
“Those convicted of dumping this toxic waste have long ago served their time, but 30 years later, their poisonous legacy remains,” said Keri Powell, a lawyer for Earthjustice, which is based in Washington.
Haley Stein, a lawyer with the New York City Law Department’s Environmental Law Division, said in a statement:
The city appreciates the importance of this remediation project, and is committed to moving forward in a way that will be protective of the community and consistent with available funding. The city and state have been working collaboratively to address the remediation of the Brookfield landfill. The cost of the remediation plan has skyrocketed, consistent with the dramatic increase in construction costs nationally, requiring the city and the state to identify additional funding and to consider modifications to the project that will achieve the same goals using available funds. That process is ongoing and will continue as quickly as possible.
The city has not yet received the complaint filed today in federal court, but we will review it thoroughly upon receipt.
Earthjustice issued statements of support for the litigation from several Staten Island officials — James P. Molinaro, the borough president; State Senator Andrew J. Lanza; Assemblymen Michael Cusick and Louis R. Tobacco; and City Councilmen Vincent M. Ignizio and Michael E. McMahon — as well as from Geri Kelsch, president of the Northern Great Kills Civic Association
In 1990, the city announced that it had set aside $600 million for the cleanup of the five city landfills involved in the 1982 scandal, including the Brookfield dump.
Earthjustice said that the cleanup had been concluded at four of the five landfills — Pelham Bay in the Bronx, Edgemere in Queens, and Fountain Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue in Brooklyn — while the remediation had yet yet to begin at the Brookfield site.
“We have been patient, cooperating in good faith with agency officials who have offered us nothing but empty promises,” John Felicetti, co-chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Brookfield Remediation, said in a statement. “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.”
The contaminants at the Brookfield site include cyanide, lead, arsenic and other contaminants. 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.
Earthjustice said in a statement:
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.
By Sewell Chan
New York Times