DEC Recently Took Enforcement Action Against Ontario Landfill, Addressing Odor Issues at High Acres Landfill, Ignoring State’s Largest
Seneca Lake Guardian today urged aggressive action from Governor Hochul and the DEC on the State’s largest landfill, Seneca Meadows. Recently, the DEC took enforcement action against Ontario Landfill, which was dumping untreated leachate locally due to inadequate storage facilities and emitting a putrid odor. The operator must pay a penalty, in addition to installing a biofiltration system to treat odorous air. The DEC also took steps to address long-standing odor issues at High Acres Landfill, working with the operator to implement an air monitoring system. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said the agency is “committed to ensuring landfill operations do not negatively impact the surrounding community.”
“Commissioner Seggos says the DEC cares about the impact of landfills on communities – so, what about the state’s largest landfill? Why are we even entertaining letting the 30-story-tall Seneca Meadows grow another seven stories and operate another 15 years? Seneca Meadows not only pumps a putrid odor far and wide through the Finger Lakes – but it’s also threatening the health of New Yorkers across the state by dumping millions of gallons of leachate containing toxic PFAS into drinking water sources. The DEC can’t keep pretending the side effects of these landfills exist in a vacuum – that’s why Seneca Meadows must close in 2025 as originally planned. We need a real plan to achieve a zero waste future – simply sanctioning landfills one-by-one is a band-aid solution,” said Yvonne Taylor, vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian.
Landfills are one of four major sources of PFAS – or toxic “forever chemicals” – in drinking water including fire training/fire response sites, industrial sites and wastewater treatment plants/biosolids. Toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” are a family of thousands of chemicals found in many everyday products including GORE-TEX, non-stick pans, popcorn bags, and more. Instead of breaking down, they build up in the environment and in our bodies, often entering through drinking water sources contaminated by landfills. In our bodies, these chemicals primarily build up in the blood, kidney and liver. According to the CDC, exposure to PFAS is linked to harmful health impacts such as cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease, to name a few.
Once those items containing PFAS make their way to landfills such as New York’s largest landfill, Seneca Meadows, leachate containing PFAS flows into our drinking water sources. Located in Seneca Falls, Seneca Meadows landfill produces 75 million gallons of leachate every year which is hauled, untreated, to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, Steuben County and even Newark, New Jersey, all of which may or may not be testing for and removing the PFAS.
Senator May and Assembly Member Kelles recently announced legislation – the “PFAS Surface Water Discharge Disclosure Act” – which would require annual testing for all facilities permitted to discharge water. There are no federal or state regulations currently requiring PFAS disclosures from all facilities that might be discharging it.
According to the 2021 Annual Report, Seneca Meadows landfill produces 75 million gallons of leachate each year which is distributed not just to Seneca Falls but also to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, and Steuben County, and the leachate eventually ends up in sources for drinking water. Only a third of the leachate is treated, while the rest of the untreated leachate is trucked to communities across the state and in New Jersey, which bear the cost burden of filtering it out of local drinking sources.
Seneca Meadows Inc. Landfill
The Seneca Meadows landfill, located in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of American Women’s Rights, is the largest of 27 landfills in New York State. It is permitted to accept 6,000 tons of waste and produce up to 200,000 gallons of polluted leachate – formed when rainwater filters through waste – per day. A quarter of the landfill – which stands at 30 stories tall – is trash from NYC, followed by four other states.
Seneca Meadows was previously required to stop receiving waste and halt operations by December 31, 2025. However, Waste Connections, the Texas based parent company of Seneca Meadows Inc., contributed around $200,000 in 2021 to pro-landfill candidates who won seats in Town Board and County races and are now supporting the Valley Infill, SMI’s planned seven-story high expansion. The expansion would keep the landfill operating through 2040 with allowable dumping on the Valley Infill (the former toxic Tantalo superfund site), rising another 70 feet into the viewscape. Even with the planned closure in 2025, the mountain of garbage promises years of problems and remediation that could take generations to mitigate.
Leachate and wastewater runoff from the landfill contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can cause widespread contamination of drinking water and harmful health impacts. Seneca Meadows produces 75 million gallons of leachate each year which is distributed not just to Seneca Falls but also to Buffalo, Watertown, Chittenango, and Steuben County, contaminating drinking water across the state.
SMI is located two miles from Cayuga-Seneca Canal and three miles from every school in Seneca Falls and Waterloo, exposing students to airborne particulates and unseen gasses known to contribute to respiratory illness, asthma, and migraine headaches. The landfill cannot process all of the methane that is generated and is forced to burn almost a billion cubic feet per year in 5 flares, contributing to climate change.
SMI is harming the Finger Lakes’ natural resources that have led to the region being under consideration for a National Heritage Area Designation, and which the $3 billion, 60,000-employee wine and agritourism economy relies on. The odor from the landfill can be smelled from miles away, including at Thruway exit 41, the northern gateway to the Finger Lakes. Large, sustainable employers in the area are finding it difficult to recruit and retain employees, because nobody wants to raise a family near a dangerous landfill.
SMI’s expansion is also at odds with the overwhelmingly popular amendment to the New York state constitution passed last year, which guarantees every New Yorker the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment.
About Seneca Lake Guardian
Seneca Lake Guardian is a New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation with 501(c)(3) and is dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the Finger Lakes, its residents and visitors, its rural community character, and its agricultural and tourist related businesses through public education, citizen participation, engagement with decision makers, and networking with like-minded organizations.