Residents surrounding the area of Freshkills can tell you about the typical summer days filled with the sunshine, birds chirping, and the smell of garbage cooking in the heat. Neighborhoods such as New Springville, Heartland Village, and Travis are situated right near what use to be the world’s largest landfill, housing all of New York City’s collected garage. Now, more than 16 years later since the dump has been closed, local politicians are calling on the city to research and determine if those smells were also dangerous.
Councilman Joe Borelli stated at a conference in May that the odor of a landfill is caused by the particulate matter in the air. He continues to say that if you were smelling the landfill when growing up and living on Staten Island, there is a chance you inhaled the particulate matter.
Both councilmen, Borelli and Steve Matteo, called on the city to allocate $500,000 for the Department of Health or the City University of New York to perform a study on the negative health issues for residents who lived within five miles of the dumping grounds.
The idea is to possibly get the funds from the tens of millions of dollars the city has been paid by energy companies who are buying the methane gas generating from the site; the New York City’s Department of Sanitation is harvesting the landfill gasses. As garbage decomposes, it generates landfill gas. There are over ten thousand linear feet of pipes that are collecting the landfill gas at Freshkills. This collected gas is then transported to a purification plant that will process the gas, separating the methane gas and transferring it to Keyspan, the National Grid. From there, it can be used to power and heat about 22,000 Staten Island homes, providing an environmental and economic benefit for New York City by preventing greenhouse gasses and generating revenue.
According to Borelli’s report, it states that Staten Islanders have higher rates of cancer and birth defects. These same health concerns were previously linked to people who lived near other hazardous waste sites around the world, including the wastes site in Montreal, New York. While this is only basic and correlative findings, Borelli was hoping it would show enough of the potential issue to warrant a deeper study by scientists.
After looking through the city’s DOH records, it proved that Staten Islanders have a higher rate for Down Syndrome, Thyroid Cancer, cleft palate, bladder cancer, [etc] than the rest of New York City. If a more comprehensive study would help elected officials determine what health issues Staten Islanders have a higher risk for, this way they can try to provide free screenings and make sure local hospitals know what to test for.
This is not the first time the city is testing the landfill area for how it can affect Staten Island residents. A study was conducted in 1997. However, Borelli argues this outcome because it was only a small sample and before 9/11.
Since the landfill closed, the city has been working on transforming the land into a 2,200-acre park, which has been opening in sections. The full site will be expected to open in 2036. Borelli has stressed that they are not worried about the current negative effects coming from the site, especially since the city has capped the landfill. He just wants the results from when the site was still active on dumping.
If this study is funded, it is predicted that it will take a couple of years to complete. While politicians are trying to get the city to put money in the budget for this research, they will try to get it funded another way if unsuccessful.