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Ferrara rejects resolution requesting analysis of high lung cancer rates around Seneca Meadows Landfill

  • / Updated:
  • Peter Mantius 

Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Mike Ferrara flatly rejected Wednesday calls for a town board vote on a proposed resolution that asks the state to conduct an analysis of high lung cancer rates in census tracts around the Seneca Meadows Inc. landfill.

The draft resolution calls for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to require the analysis as part of SMI’s environmental impact statement prepared for its application for a state permit to expand.

“The majority of the (town) board is not in favor of entering this resolution,” Ferrara wrote late yesterday in an email to members of the board’s Waste Management Advisory Committee (WMAC). “It will not be on the agenda.

“I will write a letter to the DEC and (it) will be signed by the (town) board asking the DEC to please consider the data of cluster lung cancer cases around the landfill in their EIS.” 

Ferrera did not respond to questions about why he opposed the resolution or how his letter to the DEC would differ from the resolution.

The draft resolution that Ferrara refused to allow the town board’s Sept. 5 agenda notes:

— Seneca Falls is located within a lung cancer cluster labeled LU-H-17 by the state Department of Health (for the years 2011-2015). 

— Census tracts surrounding SMI and its affiliated gas-to-energy plant had higher than expected lung cancer incidence rates during 2011-2015 and 2013-2017.

— Seneca County’s lung cancer rates continued to rank higher (than state and national averages) during the 2016-2020 period, according to the National Institutes of Health.

— Sewer gas odors in businesses along the Route 414 corridor were recently linked to hydrogen sulfide gas from landfill leachate discharged into the town’s sewer system.

— A peer reviewed scientific study found the hydrogen sulfide (emitted by several Italian landfills) was associated with higher death rates from lung cancer and respiratory disease.

— SMI, the state’s largest landfill, is located in a state-designated disadvantaged area. All schools in the towns of Seneca Falls and Waterloo are located less than three miles away.

Seneca Meadows has applied to the DEC for a permit to expand and continue operating until 2040 at current dumping rates. It seeks permission to increase the height of its hill of garbage by about 70 feet.

The DEC is requiring SMI to prepare an environmental impact statement, or EIS, as part of the application process.

In December, the landfill submitted a draft scoping document that will define (and limit) the subjects that will be covered in the EIS. The draft did not include an analysis of lung cancer clusters around the facility. The DEC has been considering hundreds of public comments on the draft and is poised to release a final scoping document.

When WaterFront asked the DEC in late June whether it intended to require the landfill include a lung cancer analysis in its EIS, the agency provided a non-committal formal response.

Members of the WMAC agreed at their Aug. 21 meeting that further analysis of the lung cancer rates near the landfill must be included in the EIS.

Barb Reese, a member of the committee, drafted the resolution and asked Ferrara to put it on the agenda for the town board’s Sept. 5 meeting.

“It seems they (town board members) are not in favor of the resolution, but they would sign a letter written by Mike (Ferrara),” Reese said. “Maybe the wording was too strong … and would jeopardize the host agreement relationship with SMI?”

Several of the points made in the draft resolution were first reported by WaterFront on June 28.

In that report, the census tract data for the years 2011-2015 and 2013-2017 was taken directly from the DOH’s public cancer registry website. 

But when WaterFront asked the agency for its most recent cancer data by census tract, it refused to comply. 

The DOH said “suppression” of such data was in keeping with federal guidelines. Several scientists and environmental activists vehemently disagreed. They said the agency’s new policy of withholding cancer data that it once routinely provided allows polluters to “hide.”

WaterFront has filed a request to DOH under the Freedom of Information Law for the more recent census tract data. The agency has acknowledged the request but not provided the data.

Ferrara told WaterFront in June that he “100% agreed” that DOH data on lung cancer rates in Seneca County should be included in debates about the landfill’s permit application. At the time, he add: “I am sure the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and DEC will review this data and (it) will be part of their decision.”