The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun testing five technologies for cleanup at a federal Superfund site in Rensselaer County, where more than 46,000 tons of toxins were dumped over 60 years ago.
That amounts to twice the number of toxins dumped in Love Canalthe site of the worst environmental disaster involving chemical wastes in US history. An abandoned canal became a dumping ground for nearly 22,000 tons of chemical waste (including polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin and pesticides) produced by the Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corporation in the 1940s and 50s. Over the next three decades, it attracted national attention for the serious health problems to Love Canal neighborhood residents, caused by years of exposure to toxic soil and groundwater.
In Rensselaer County, between 1952 and 1968, more than 46,000 tons of industrial hazardous wastes, carcinogens, and PCBs (polychlorinated byphenyls), were carelessly dumped into an area that was once a lagoon on Mead Road in the Town of Nassau formerly owned by resident Dewey Loeffel. Several industries, including the General Electric Company (GE), Bendix Corporation, and Schenectady Chemicals, Inc. were responsible for the waste, which includes chlorinated solvents, waste oils, PCBs, acids and bases and other scrap materials.
Behind a fence, the Dewey Loeffel Landfill Superfund site and water treatment facility sit in the middle of Mead Road, surrounded by homes on either end of this rural dirt, gravel road. Crossing the road from the site, Little Thunder Brook remains contaminated with PCBsrunoff from years of toxic dumping.
Today, concerns remain over the condition of bedrock underneath the former dump site, which state officials relied on to contain remaining toxins when a cap and slurry wall were installed during the 1980s without a landfill liner to slow the leakage of contaminants. "The site is still leaking, that's clear," said Nassau Town Supervisor David Fleming. "A cap and a liner do nothing when you key it into fractured bedrock. We need to stop the migration of toxins from the site and simultaneously address the cleanup technologies."
Contaminants are still found today, having migrated out and traveled deep in the soil on the banks of Little Thunder Brook, across the road and downstream from the Superfund site.
In 2021, heavy rainfall caused severe flooding along the brook which spread PCB contamination to new areas, disturbing old contaminants in the soil, washing away sections of the stream bank, and ruining an EPA remediation project in the upper part of the brook. Contaminated soil flowed downstream toward the Valatie Kill, which flows into Nassau Lake and eventually the Hudson River.
- Read: Worse Than Irene: The Toxic Aftermath of a Storm in Rensselaer County
- Read: With Flooding on the Rise, Hudson Valley Superfund Sites Are at Risk
Meanwhile, a few miles from the Mead Road site, a new area was flagged for contamination and declared a just two years ago. This residential area along Route 203 near Sweets Crossing in the Town of Nassau, the former home and property of landfill owner Dewey Loeffel, was used as a truck staging area to transport toxic substances to the Mead Road site.
The toxins and waste oils from the trucks then seeped into the ground on the Route 203 property, also affecting a pond on site and an acre of wetland, endangering nearby residential drinking wells.
Elevated levels of PCBs, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and metals found in on-site soil groundwater, and pond sediments, and contaminants detected in some nearby residential drinking wells still make this site a hazard.
More than half a century later, significant cleanup could be in sight for both federal and state Superfund sites.
5 Technologies Considered for Dewey Loeffel Landfill Superfund Site
EPA officials agree that cleanup for the Mead Road site is far from a one-and-done situation. "None of the technologies will solve all the problems in one shot," said EPA Remedial Project Manager Joe Battipaglia during a recent EPA at a meeting of the Dewey Loeffel Landfill Community Advisory Group. "Most likely, it will take a mix of technologies."
The advisory group is comprised of local residents interested in cleanup at the site.
Most CAG members have been trying to get the site cleaned up for decades.
Trent Romer grew up in Nassau, not far from Mead Road. After attending the meeting, he said he's hopeful about cleanup at the site. "I think we can get there," he said, "but, I'm an optimist."
At the meeting, EPA Consultant Jeff Frederick of Williams Sale Partnership an engineering and design firm, said that the five technologies being tested are standard approaches that have been successfully used at other Superfund sites and that this is the first of several steps to determine the best approach to remediation.
In the presentation, EPA officials laid out the following five technologies for cleanup of toxins present at the Dewey Loeffel Landfill Superfund site:
ISCO treatment as chemical oxidation, uses chemicals called oxidants to help change harmful contaminants into less toxic ones. It is commonly described as in situ because it is conducted in place, without having to excavate soil or pump out groundwater for above ground cleanup. It has the potential to be effective in soil and groundwater and contaminants that can degrade chemically, such as BTEX, (chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene) chlorobenzene, chlorinated VOCs, and 1,4-dioxane.
In 2014, a known carcinogen1,4-dioxane, was found in a tank sample of contaminated water after treatment at the on-site water treatment facility built the year prior. The facility treats contaminated water from the landfill, then discharges it into the nearby Valatie Kill, sending the treated water downstream.
EISB introduces microoganisms to the soil and groundwater, breaking down contaminants to a non-hazardous or less toxic state. It has the potential to be effective in breaking down BTEX, chlorinated VOCs and SVOCs (semi-volatile organic compounds).
Bioventing requires active venting points to introduce air underneath the surface of the landfill to enhance microbial activity and stimulate biodegradationthe decomposition of chemicals into environmentally acceptable products, and volatilizationthe conversion of all or part of a liquid or solid into vapor.
SVE treatment extracts contaminants vapors from the area below the landfill cap and above the water table, potentially effective for lowering elevated concentrations of VOCs.
Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (LNAPL) is a free product hydrocarbon petroleum liquid, lighter than water, present in portions of the landfill. LNAPL Extractability is the process of measuring how much of this liquid can be extracted from beneath the landfill. Samples are taken to measure the fluids resistance to flow and its chemical properties, including VOCs, SVOCs, and PCBs.
Field testing for the EPA Pilot Study Schedule starts at the landfill this spring, continuing late into 2024, after which results will be released. The EPA will then propose a cleanup plan, asking for public input before making final selections, according to Larisa Romanowski, EPA community involvement coordinator.
Although there are other technologies under consideration for cleanup at the site, these five were selected for field testing "because their effectiveness is highly dependent upon site conditions," in actual results, said Romanowski.
Route 203 State Superfund Site Cleanup
To date, 125 abandoned and deteriorated 55-gallon drums have been removed from the area since the Spring of 2022, many found buried onsite. "Tanks underground containing waste oils have to be removed, some have liquids in them," Supervisor Fleming said. "Its a complex site. The resolution is going to take a while."
Carbon filtration systems have been installed by the EPA on impacted residential wells along with bottled water provided for residents. "To date, only two wells have contained site contaminants above state water drinking standards," said Romanowski. "An additional 12 wells have contained lower levels of contamination below state drinking water standards."
But Fleming says that carbon filtration systemswhich have to be updated and replaced, present only a short-term fix. "I believe it's extremely important that the responsible parties provide an extension of the village water system to these town residents so that they can get clean, potable water."
While the EPA will continue sampling residential wells, the NYS Department of Conservation, which designated the area a state Superfund site, will be overseeing the long-term cleanup.
Regarding cleanup at both sites, Fleming said there has been progress, adding, "There's a long road ahead of us."