Official: Sandy debris burns
in Yaphank hurt air quality
Newsday March 3, 2013
By DEON J. HAMPTON
Suffolk County officials
say pollution emitted from the Yaphank landfill was more
than double the safe level while superstorm Sandy debris
was burned -- a reversal from an earlier pronouncement.
In December, county officials advised Brookhaven Town
Supervisor Edward P. Romaine that debris burning at the
landfill posed no immediate health and safety threat.
But the county
acknowledged last week that on some days during a
seven-week burning period from the start of November to
Feb. 12, landfill employees were exposed to particulate
matter -- a mixture of small particles and liquid
droplets, which, according to the state Department of
Environmental Conservation's website, can cause nose,
throat and lung irritation and worsen chronic heart and
lung problems. "I do have some concerns of what
these test results show," said Bill Walsh, president of
the local Civil Service Employees Association union. He
said no employees have complained of illness related to
possible exposure, but he wanted to review the
documentation before commenting further.
Particulate matter is
measured in microns; anything at or below 35 microns is
considered safe, Suffolk County officials said. On some
days during Sandy burning, levels in the immediate
vicinity of the landfill reached 85 microns, Suffolk
County Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson said.
"There . . . may be an issue," Anderson said. "[But] we
don't know that there was a health risk by this material
being in the air." State Health Department
officials did not return calls for comment about the
possible significance of the exposure.
The high levels came to
light after Adrienne Esposito, executive director of
Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment,
obtained the information from the county. The
documents she shared with Newsday show there were five
days between Dec. 30 and Jan. 6 that readings were
"significantly above" the safe daily average. "Suffolk
County wanted a cheap, easy, quick solution to burning
debris, but that doesn't equate to safety," Esposito
said. "There was negligence in protecting the public."
Esposito said her group believes town workers and
possibly residents were exposed to high levels of matter
after burners called air curtain destructors were used
to destroy about 55,000 tons of vegetative debris from
She called for a ban on
the burners countywide. "The county should be
protecting the public and their health instead of its
image," Esposito said. "The particulate matter is light,
it's airborne and travels far." Romaine did not
renew a DEC-issued permit for the burners after it
expired Feb. 12. "I was concerned about the burning and
air quality," the supervisor said. "This isn't a
strategy the town will be using in the future."
Because residents complained about bad smells and ash
during the burning period, county officials said four
air quality stations were installed to measure emissions
in and around the landfill. The county also stopped
simultaneous use of all the burners and slowed burning
daily from 24 to 12 hours, Anderson said.
Burning was also stopped
when winds reached 20 mph. Anderson said residents
living near the landfill were not exposed to the high
levels, which he said could have been increased or
influenced by high winds or trucks driving through the
landfill. Walsh said that before air monitors were
installed in late November, 20 landfill employees spent
a month working 16-hour shifts at the landfill.