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Letter to EPA and NYSDEC regarding investigation and remediation at former Ithaca City dump site

July 20, 2015

Via Electronic Transmission

Honorable Judith A. Enck
Region 2 Coordinator
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
90 Broadway
New York, NY 10007-1866

Honorable Joseph Martens
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway
Albany, New York 12233-0001

Re: Please investigate and remediate the contaminated former Ithaca City dump


I wrote respectfully to both of you on June 10, 2015 to request that your agencies take action to block an ill-considered City of Ithaca proposal to permit expanded residential housing on its former dump unless that site is fully investigated and remediated in strict compliance with all applicable state and federal clean up standards.

I write today to provide important new data which document historic industrial waste disposal and toxic contamination concerns at the Ithaca dump. This extensive information underscores the urgent need for your agencies to investigate and remediate the dump in order to safeguard the health of residents of the trailer park on the northern end of the site as well as water quality in an adjoining tributary to Cayuga Lake, the source of drinking water for more than 30,000 inhabitants.
My 6/10/15 letter referenced various self-explanatory documents which revealed extensive contamination at the dump, including what appears to be a rusted 55-gallon drum that I recently found on the portion of the site immediately southeast of the trailer park. I asserted that, "I believe it is very likely that a field inspection of the landfill as a whole when existing profuse vegetation dies back would reveal additional signs of past dumping."

See: Letter to Ithaca Common Council Re: An Ordinance To Amend The City of Ithaca Municipal Code, Chapter 325, Entitled “Zoning” In Order To Amend The Required Rear Yard Setback In The MH-1 Zoning District

1. Please see below a picture of what appears to be a rusted and crushed 55-gallon drum identified within the boundary of trailer park. This likely artifact of past industrial dumping practices was observed by Ithaca First Ward Alderperson, Cynthia Brock. This discovery documents concerns that residents can be exposed to persistent toxic chemicals in the vicinity of their homes through gaseous emissions, fugitive dust or drinking water pollution. I request that these direct exposure pollution pathways be investigated and eliminated by mitigation and clean up.

See: Photo of Buried Drum

2. I provide a copy of a 3/27/1985 "Right to Know" database print-out that I obtained from Mr. John Andersson, PE, formerly of the Tompkins County Department of Health. As you will see, the "Ithaca Dump" reportedly received 1.25 tons of "diatomaceous earth contaminated by tetrachloroethylene" from a local dry cleaning establishment. This very likely constitutes hazardous waste disposal.

As you will see, Mr. Andersson annotated this print-out in his distinctive handwriting which clearly matches a 5/28/87 sign-in sheet for a meeting about the dump as well as other documents included in my 6/10/15 letter or presented herein for your review.

He wrote that extensive industrial waste dumping at an "Unknown" site probably involved site code, "7-55-501 City Dump." Ithaca Gun reported disposing of "cyanides, corrosives and trichloroethane." NYSEG [New York State Electric and Gas, not in the original] reported disposing of "PCB [polychlorinated biphenyls, not in the original] capacitors, rags and contaminated clothing." This disclosure could explain the presence of PCBs subsequently documented at the dump.

See: RTK Program - Reported Hazardous Waste Data - Ithaca City Dump

3. I provide a 1987 landfill sampling map and a 7/1/1987 memo from Charles H. Chernoff of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to Mr. Andersson regarding the analytical findings of surface material collected at the dump and sediment in an adjoining waterway. Mr. Chernoff reports, "indication of contamination from hydrocarbons as well as metals and notes identification of benzene, ethylbenzene, dichlorobenzene, xylene and chromium.

Mr. Chernoff recommends that groundwater wells "be placed on the perimeter of this site and sampled for the same parameters analyzed on 6/4/1987." He also wrote, "It is recommended that any approvals of any expansion of Nates Floral Estates on top of this landfill be discouraged until a thorough investigation of the sub-surface groundwater quality and gas migration potential from the site be made."

See: Former Ithaca Dump - 3 Sample Sites - 1987

4. I provide a copy of an 8/27/2010 spill profile which reported "chlorobenzene" identified in a sample collected from a groundwater monitoring well at "Lowes-Parking Lot." This area immediately adjoins the trailer park to the south, but the monitoring well is approximately 1,000 feet south of any trailers.

See: Spill 1006101 profile - Chlorobenzene

5. I provide a copy of an extremely important 10/15/1962 map of Ithaca's "City Dump" which documents that "Wallace Junk" occupied the northern portion of the landfill where dozens of manufactured homes now exist. Ms. Brock obtained this previously undisclosed map during a document search she performed at the City of Ithaca's Water and Sewer Department. As you will see, the City of Ithaca failed to provide me with this map in response to a Freedom of Information Law request I submitted circa 2000 regarding its dump records.

See: Map - City Dump 1962.10.15 File No. 1222 and FOIL Response from City of Ithaca Re: Ithaca City Dump - 5/31/2000

6. "Wallace Steel" warrants your most urgent concern because that firm is documented to have caused extensive contamination hazards at the Ithaca dump. According to a 2/11/1964 letter from the Tompkins County Department of Health to Wallace Steel obtained by Ms. Brock:

"At the present time, you are depositing the metal filings, chips and scraps on the east side of the approach road into the city dump in close proximity to the flood relief channel (emphasis added). Cutting oils draining from the scraps are collecting in pools, some of which are within 20 to 30 feet of the stream. It is evident that some of this oil can and will reach the stream, resulting in oil slicks and pollution in contravention of the standards of the Water Pollution Control Act."

See: Department of Health Letter to Wallace Steel - 2/11/64

7. I provide a "MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD" which refers to a 1/31/1969 meeting with Mr. Harold Wallace of Wallace Steel Company where it was revealed that "waste lubricants" and "waste oils" from "waste chips, shavings and other metal scraps from the Morse Chain Company are collected at the Wallace Steel Company site. This memo notes that:

"Mr. Wallace told me that he is keenly interested in the problems of solid waste and that he is seriously considering getting involved in the business. He now has at the Morse Chain Company, National Cash Register Company, Smith-Corona at Groton and Smith Corona at Cortland, a container service with a built-in packer unit. He reports that these are operating quite satisfactorily. Disposal is presently at the City refuse site (emphasis added)."

See: Wallace Steel memo - 1969

8. A Tompkins County Department of Health "General Investigation" form dated 1/25/1971 for Wallace Steel Co. states:

"Oil and coolant from shops is hauled to Wallace yard. It is then dumped into a large holding tank. Then oil + water coolants are burned with no smoke.

There is a drain from scrap yard that might drain into inlet at some time or leach through soil (will check in spring or summer) See sketch reverse.

Mr. Wallace states he has to move everything off Old City Dump by August. Mary Weiner owns land + his lease is up. She will not renew.

Inspector Churchill"

This report supports the conclusion that Wallace Steel conducted operations on the Ithaca dump until 1971.

See: Wallace Steel General Investigation - 1971

9. Additional field inspections circa 1981 and 1987 by the Tompkins County Department of Health repeatedly documented past industrial waste dumping practices at the Ithaca dump, including disposal of dozens of barrels as well as "industrial degreaser." Common degreasers are chlorinated solvents.

See: Manufactured Home Park - City Dump Inspection 6/04/87 and Tompkins County Health Department - Old City of Ithaca Dump - 1981

Urgent Request for Immediate Ithaca Dump Investigation and Remediation

I believe the extensive information I am providing for your review today supports the indisputable conclusion that the Ithaca dump must be thoroughly investigated, closed, capped and cleaned up without any further delay in order to safeguard the health of trailer park residents on the site as well as water quality in the adjoining tributary to Southern Cayuga Lake.

With all respect, it is inexplicable that more than 28 years have passed since extensive documentation of historic industrial waste dumping practices at the Ithaca dump was brought to DEC's attention. Yet, the agency's recommendation that "additional wells be placed on the perimeter of this site and sampled..." has never been implemented. It is even more incomprehensible that no thorough remedial effort was ever conducted at this dump to protect residents at the trailer park or Cayuga Lake.

Given that this site is likely the only former municipal dump in New York State with hundreds of people living directly on top of contaminated fill, the failure to investigate and clean up this site is inexcusable. I have written repeatedly to both your agencies about this matter for 15 years.

A limited Ithaca dump investigation report was released by DEC on 11/1/2000. Even though PCBs were detected just below the concentration that constitutes hazardous waste and hydrocarbon and metal contamination was documented exceeding clean up standards, this assessment cannot be considered either rigorous or representative of the landfill's pollution hazards. Geoprobe monitoring locations are literally hundreds of feet apart. The four groundwater wells average more than 1,000 feet apart.

Overview of Former Drum Disposal Areas and Sampling Points (PDF format - 51.6 MB)

DEC's investigation prompted the City of Ithaca to undertake a poorly conducted drum removal action that failed to meet clean up requirements. Even worse, a decision was made not to include the Ithaca dump in the Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site Registry. In hindsight, this decision must be called into question because thousands of crushed 55 gallon drums and industrial artifacts were revealed three years later when the southern portion of the Ithaca Dump was graded for Big Box retail development.

Against that background, the City of Ithaca continues to push for expanding residential housing on its abandoned dump without conducting any site investigation or remediation. I reiterate my request that your agencies make sure that no additional residential housing is permitted on this site until all its air, land, water and groundwater toxic hazards are fully delineated and cleaned up.

Above all, I request that current residents be protected from landfill hazards without any further delay. In particular, the trailer park's drinking water supply system, which reportedly fails to meet local code requirements, must be brought into strict compliance.

Finally, I request that areas where Wallace Steel conducted its business activities be investigated and, if need be, remediated. When I brought this matter to DEC's attention circa 2007, the agency accepted the operator's refusal to permit on-site sampling and analysis. That oversight warrants immediate correction.

I trust that you will find my requests self-explanatory, but please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions that I might be able to answer. I am always open to your suggestions.

Thank you for your consideration and for any assistance you can render.

Very respectfully yours,

Walter Hang
215 N. Cayuga Street
Ithaca, NY 14850

cc: Honorable Cynthia Brock
Honorable Richard DePaolo
Honorable Barbara S. Lifton
Honorable Mayor Myrick
Honorable Members of the Ithaca Common Council
Honorable Members of the Tompkins County Legislature
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Kenneth Deschere