Monitors at the landfill





Three air quality monitors, two along the south side of the landfill property and one along its north side, were placed on Monday at the Brookhaven landfill to monitor the burning of vegetative debris via four air curtain destructors. “It’s not big,” said Suffolk County Department of Public Works Gil Anderson of the computerized monitors. “It’s something someone could carry and stays in position. It operates via batteries.” Anderson said the monitoring results would be based on a 24-hour average. “We’ll get stations to wirelessly communicate with a computer as the day goes on,” he said. “You may have a little spike along that time, but basically, it’s to be kept below [the federal ambient air quality standard, 35ug per cubic meter]. We anticipate the burning will be within the allowable limits.” Anderson said SCDPW would monitor the burning with oversight from the Department of Environmental Conservation. “At some point, those levels will be communicated to the DEC and Federal Emergency Management Agency,” he said. 

Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Joe Williams said the county was paying for the monitors. “We’ll seek reimbursement for the machines from FEMA,” he said. The air quality monitors emerged quickly after Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine contacted Williams last week about his concerns. “The county never thought of air monitors until I said we might pull the plug,” Romaine told the Advance. “If we find we are exceeding standards and we’re jeopardizing people’s health, I’ll shut it down. But I will be relying on the health department of the county and the DEC from the state. They can look at the monitors and make that determination. “Once we ask them to remove the air curtains, that’s it.” Romaine said he would make the monitoring results public. Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito, who heads the Brookhaven Community Coalition, said their executive committee met with Romaine on Monday in an emergency meeting in his office because of local residents complaining about noxious fumes and an ash haze over the area since the burning began. “We call them air quality destroyers,” she said, referring to the air curtain destructors. “They double-burn the vegetation and it creates a very fine particulate matter. It’s the type that causes lung problems.” 

If you ask Deborah Schiminski, who lives on Yaphank Avenue east of the landfill, she’ll agree. Schiminski grew up on her block, the same one her mother lives on, before the landfill was built. “It seems to be worse at night if you step outside,” she said. “Your eyes water, your throat is burning and the ash is actually falling on you. My cars are covered with ash. I have a huge deck in the back covered with it. Every day it’s forming a crust on everything. Where I live, I don’t get any smell [from that] but I do have smells from [Long Island Compost], so I’m getting whammied with everything.” Town spokesperson Jack Krieger said the town is receiving debris for burning from the villages of Belle Terre, Bellport, Lake Grove, Patchogue and Poquott, and from the towns of Smithtown, Southampton, Riverhead and Southhold, as well as Suffolk County DPW. In early December, Romaine told the Advance the town was burning 3,200 cubic yards daily; Krieger said currently just minor cleanup is coming in. Before the monitors came on board, the county had used hand-held devices. “So far, what we’ve seen is that it’s half of what it’s supposed to be at its highest level,” Anderson said of the particulate rate. 

The Advance was given access to view two air curtain destructors on the south side of the eastern landfill property Tuesday morning. The destructors looked like dumpsters with two large air blowers on top. “It’s similar to a large dumpster with air being forced into it by a blower that feeds the fire,” Anderson explained. “The whole top is open and the fire goes up in the atmosphere with such intensity that the trees burned are brought down to 3 percent of their density.” Michael Seilback, vice president for public policy and communications with the American Lung Association of the Northeast, said particulate matter generally stays in areas somewhat close to the source. “If you can smell it, you’re inhaling it,” he said. “We know the combustion of this debris leads to particulate matter; breathed in, it’s like rubbing sandpaper on your lungs. A lot of us link wood burning with the holiday season and positive memories. But this burn can trigger asthma attacks and is linked to heart attacks and even premature deaths.” 

According to Emily DeSantis, the DEC’s Albany director of public information, the DEC issued an Enforcement Discretion at Brookhaven based on a request by the town. The town burned debris from Hurricane Irene successfully at that location, De- Santis said, with no significant degradation in air quality, as measured at its continuous air quality monitoring locations. The DEC has committed to assist Suffolk County in implementing the operation of the monitors and interpreting the data, she said in a statement, and has the authority to suspend or modify the Enforcement Discretion if it deems it is in the public interest to do so. “If DEC determines that the burn is contributing to an unacceptable level of air pollution, it will take appropriate action,” the statement said. “DEC is allowing it to happen,” said Seilback. “Our perspective on this is, why? There are other ways to get rid of this wood. They could be chipping it. Burning wood is not the only solution; there is a demand for wood products and it seems this would be a solution.” _