July 22, 2008

Toxic Waste Plan is a Threat to Region, Lake Ontario

By Robbyn Drake

Up to a point, the facts of the case are simple: A PCB- contaminated site near Albany requires cleanup. A full assessment of the site was conducted by the State Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC recommended on-site treatment of the contaminated soil, for which safe and effective technology is available.

So how on earth do we end up with a decision to haul 75,000 tons of the most toxic portion of this waste to Niagara County and dump it just a few miles from our Niagara River and Lake Ontario?

Apparently, we are merely victims of a glitch in the bidding process. In Albany, perhaps this looks like standard procedure: rework the recommendation and put the project back out to bid. To those of us living in Western New York, it looks a little different.

It looks like 75,000 tons of PCB waste rolling past our homes and schools at 55 mph in trucks that are cited again and again for leaking, trucks that may tumble into the roadside ditches (as one did not far from the Lew-Port Schools in 2006).

It looks like 75,000 tons of PCB waste added to the stockpile that we currently harbor here, the one that has been known to leak into Twelve Mile and Four Mile Creeks (flowing on into Lake Ontario).

It looks like 75,000 tons of PCB waste that we may have to deal with again, with more expensive cleanups, more disheartening losses of property value, more distressing health concerns. Not just for our region, but for everyone who dips a toe into our famous, fresh lake.

We have seen enough of what this looks like: a raw deal for Niagara County and a blatant disregard for our Great Lakes water quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Lakewide Management Plan for Lake Ontario states that "Human activities and decisions shall embrace environmental ethics and a commitment to responsible stewardship."

Does this not directly contradict a decision to ship more PCB waste into the Lake Ontario basin, particularly when safer and more effective means of treatment are available?

PCBs are specifically listed as one of 18 priority toxics in the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan, a work plan for river cleanup developed by agencies in the United States and Canada. The goal of this plan, as stated by the agency partners, including the DEC, is "to reduce toxic chemical concentrations in the river by reducing inputs from sources along the river." Considering the legacy of toxic waste we are already coping with in the region, how can the DEC even consider adding a new PCB burden to this watershed?

The solution is as clear as our cool Great Lakes: destroy the PCBs on site and spare us the heartache and expense of another cleanup. The rest of the nation covets our fresh water. Let's prove that we find it precious, too.

Robbyn Drake of Lewiston is Riverwatch program director for the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

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