Community groups call for landfill investigation

Concern grows over potential DEC and Covanta oversight 


Organization leaders from the NAACP, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group organized with over 40 community members for a protest outside the Brookhaven Town Landfill. The group rallied for an investigation into the potential toxic dumping reported by Newsday earlier this month.

The Newsday exposé, released earlier this month, suggested that engineers for Covanta, the company that burns household trash for the town, were concerned about the potentially “toxic” ash dumped at the landfill for nearly a decade.

During the rally held on Monday, Oct. 9, the groups called for an immediate independent investigation into the Town of Brookhaven landfill and State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regarding the potentially toxic dumping. They now call on attorney general Letitia James to conduct the independent investigation.

The Town of Brookhaven relies on testing of ash from the NY DEC, which is the agency that regulates waste management in New York State, for the safety of material entering the facility. Brookhaven Town is the only municipality of the three involved in the lawsuit against Covanta that has not signed onto a settlement agreement to end the suit. Town officials also said they are continuing to move forward with plans to convert a large portion of the landfill to a clean energy park, making way for over 100 acres to be the site of a solar energy facility.

In response to the rally, the Office of the Attorney General provided a statement noting they are aware of the issue and are in communication with relevant parties.

According to the NYS DEC, as directed by the governor in 2021, the DEC is using their full statutory and regulatory authority “to conduct an ongoing investigation into Covanta’s past ash handling and disposal processes. Once the investigation is complete, DEC will hold the facility accountable for any violations found.”

Commissioner Basil Seggos also released the following statement in regards to 2006-2014 ash handling:

“DEC is taking a hard look at past practices at the Brookhaven Landfill and Covanta facility, and we are taking seriously information from a decade ago or more as it comes to light during the ongoing litigation. We will take action to address any violations we find.”

“I can’t yet speak to what happened during prior administrations or respond to allegations about operations or litigation in which DEC is not a party. But since I’ve been leading DEC, our focus over the last eight years has been and continues to be aggressive, science-based, and responsive to community concerns. DEC required both facilities to implement extensive improvements, including overhauling ash handling and disposal, preventing odor and other offsite impacts, and ensuring both facilities meet stringent air-quality and solid-waste standards.”

The landfill was expected to close by 2024, but due to space and New York State engineers, will not close until completely filled. 

According to deputy supervisor Dan Panico, the site is expected to close to C&D, commercial and demolition debris, by 2024. It is not anticipated to close to household incinerated ash until 2028.

“We have to fill it; we were permitted by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to fill it,” Panico said during an earlier interview for another story, noting that there has to be a certain slope adhered to when capping it. “It will likely be a couple months into 2028; that’s when it will reach final capacity.”

During this time and after closure, Panico said, residents of Brookhaven Town will continue to put their garbage out twice a week and recycling once a week to the curb.

The company, Covanta, is still contracted to collect the garbage, which will continue to be incinerated, regardless of placement. Panico also said the town is continuing to promote recycling efforts and seeking markets for those commodities.

NAACP Brookhaven chapter president, Dr. Georgette Grier-Key

“What do we want?” Grier-Key asked. “Justice,” the crowd of over 40 replied. “When do we want [it]?” she asked again. “Now!” the crowed replied.

“We’re here to tell you that enough is enough. We for too long in the North Bellport community have lived with all the injustices of this environmental hazard. We are appalled today standing here calling on the government, the town, and the DEC to do what is right. There is no way they can investigate themselves. They thought we would go away and this would be swept under the rug,” she said addressing the crowd in her rally speech.

“We are here to expose what has been happening for so long—they have not listened to our community, they have not listened to our teachers, they have not listened to me or our children or my colleges that stand here in solidarity with me,” she continued.

“We say enough is enough and we are calling on the attorney general to do an independent—independent—investigation and want that independent investigation to sign a letter on all that has been hidden for many, many, many years.”

Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) executive director, Adrienne Esposito

“There are many more lies buried in the landfill,” Esposito said to the crowd. “Ten years ago, I took a group of community people to meet with the DEC about ash raining down on the community. We told the DEC: ‘We see ash, we smell ash, and we taste ash.’ And they shrugged, and smirked and disregarded us.”

“There are DEC records that benzene has been coming from the landfill floating into the community and located in the Frank P Long school,” she added. “The bottom line here is that the regulators have failed to protect us—they are lazy, inept, or have a local flagrant disregard for public health and protection. We deserve regulators who will stand up and protect the health and safety of the public.”

“This is no joke what is happening here, and the DEC is at the center of it,” she said. “We need better, we deserve better, and we are demanding better.”

Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group (BLARG) co-founder, Monique Fitzgerald

“It’s not easy to stand here today with my family and the community today,” Fitzgerald said, blaming colonialism and capitalism. “The landfill is 270 feet tall! We smell it every day, we feel it [everyday], today at work we still feel it. […] We feel this pain every day,” she said. “That independent investigation must happen because we cannot rely on the DEC that has failed us over and over and over and over again. The DEC is not equipped—neither is the town or the county—to give us what we need. We are here telling you what we need, and we need this thing closed down.”


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