Something still smells 

Long Island Advance
January 10, 2013


From under the glow cast by work lights at the Brookhaven Town Landfill, a column of thick dark smoke rises into the sky. From the four air curtain destructors that have been burning 24/7 since early December, the smoke curls as it rises, ballooning at the sides like storm clouds before widening; spreading and flattening as the wind hundreds of feet up takes over, carrying the dark cloud whichever way the wind happens to be blowing, out and over the neighborhoods of Yaphank, Brookhaven hamlet, Bellport and Medford. On Sunrise Highway, Montauk Highway, Horseblock Road and Yaphank Avenue, the people are driving home from work, home from school, from music lessons and dance classes, athletic events, shopping; the places that constitute their daily lives.

As the cars pass within a mile or two of the landfill ll, small motes reflect in the setting sun, or shine in the glow of their headlights. Too warm for snow, some of them wonder what this is. Others know. The air has a gritty feel. You can almost taste it: metallic, ashy, dry. It gets in your hair, coats your truck in a fi ne haze, sometimes makes you sneeze or cough. At the liquor store, the deli, the gas station, people are talking. The air has a distinct smell that comes and goes, depending on which way the wind blows. Sometimes it’s rather mild, but other times the stench is overwhelmingly awful; disgusting even. “I don’t know about you,” one woman says as she leaves the deli with a cup of coffee, “but I don’t like breathing this stuff. God only knows what’s in it.” 

The newspapers have all had articles in which the air has been declared safe by someone. There are promises that the people’s health is a primary concern, and that the burning will stop if found to be unsafe. Air monitoring stations have been set up to test the air, and to reassure us all that every precaution is being taken to safeguard our health and our quality of life. “Where are the monitors?” one man asks as he fills his truck with gas. “And who is reading the results? Can we trust them to tell us the truth? We’ve been lied to before.” He shakes his head sadly as he drives away. A woman at the post office on Montauk Highway in Brookhaven talks with the clerk. “What I can’t figure out,” she says, “is why they stopped using these things at other locations on Long Island, but they’re still using them here. Unsafe there is unsafe here, isn’t it?” She takes her stamps and leaves, not waiting for a reply. 

A group of people comes together to celebrate the New Year at a house in Yaphank. The smoke, the smells, the dust and debris have been particularly bad this day with the wind blowing off the bay. “Did you call the hotline?” the homeowner asks of his neighbor. “Yeah, I did,” he says. “A bunch of times, but I don’t know why I bother. They never come in time to check it out. It seems like no one cares.” Other voices chime in. They have called the hotline, their congressman, the supervisor, the Department of Waste Management. Most of the time they leave a message on the machine that answers their call. They have emailed, written letters, attended meetings. “I don’t think anyone is listening,” a woman says. “A friend of mine was told when he called that it was ‘impossible’ for him to have grit on the cars at his body shop. ‘The wind never blows that way.’ I mean, come on . . . really?” The heads shake, and the door is closed quickly as another guest arrives. “It’s brutal out there,” the new arrival says. “And I don’t mean the weather.”