Irondequoit residents living above old dump sit on uneasy ground

State has avoided cleanup of landfill
Steve Orr • Staff writer • November 29, 2009 When Dave and Vicki Schroeder first lived in their Irondequoit home, each spring brought a fresh reminder of the problem hidden beneath their property. "We used to have a garden. Every year I'd rototill, and every year garbage would come up. And every year I'd pile in more topsoil and more organics trying to get enough base that the garbage wasn't there," Dave Schroeder recalled. At one point, a section of their front yard subsided, and a pond formed every year in the backyard. Since 1981, the Schroeders have hauled in 65 cubic yards of soil — roughly three tons' worth — to shore up their property on Timrod Drive. Most conspicuously, their attached garage is slowly detaching from the house. One or both structures are shifting, creating a void between the two that's easily seen from the street. As they now know only too well, the Schroeders live atop an old dump. They aren't alone. Parts of two northern Irondequoit subdivisions, as well as a shopping plaza and other scattered businesses, are affected in one way or another by the old Pattonwood dump, where countless tons of household trash, sewage sludge, ash, concrete and who knows what else were buried decades ago. But the true impact of that trash on those who live and work around the dump has never been fully assessed. It is a fate the neighbors share with people who live near hundreds of similar sites around New York state that have been written off by officials as low or zero priorities. Time and again over the last quarter-century, state and local agencies raised questions and alarms about possible threats to residents of Timrod Drive but never acted, an investigation by the Democrat and Chronicle found. On at least two occasions, officials recommended testing to see whether Timrod Drive residents faced any health risks, but the testing was never done. That appeared to be changing on Oct. 1, when Irondequoit officials summoned Timrod residents and reporters to a hastily called meeting. The town revealed that testing near the Schroeders' house and one other atop the dump had shown the presence of both explosive methane gas and very low levels of toxic-chemical vapors. Improbably, the testing was sponsored by the would-be developers of a proposed $250 million riverfront complex who, to support their ongoing legal case against the state, went looking for evidence of contamination and found it. Irondequoit Supervisor Mary Ellen Heyman said the test results proved that the old Pattonwood dump was a menace that needed to be addressed immediately. The methane threat can be quite real. In one 1990 case, an Albany neighborhood near a municipal dump that had closed 30 years earlier was evacuated after a methane explosion in a home was triggered by a man making toast. "My thoughts initially were ... 'We've been in this house since 1981 and it hasn't blown up yet.' I didn't think too much about the chemicals," said Vicki Schroeder. "But it's a lot more involved than I had originally thought. So I'm concerned. Very concerned." After Heyman's public meeting, state and local officials said they would look into the matter further. But nothing further has been done, and nothing more is planned, environmental and health officials say. Residents are being left to their own devices, as they have been since studies first sounded the alarm about the old dump in the mid-1980s.

The making of a dump Decades ago, before the emergence of centralized landfills with pollution controls, low-lying areas such as ravines, gravel pits and swamps were popular spots to get rid of trash. The marshy lowlands east of the mouth of Genesee River were typical. According to interviews and a review of government records and newspaper archives by the Democrat and Chronicle, in-filling began there in the 19th century. As early as the 1930s, land on both sides of Pattonwood Drive near the eastern end of the old Stutson Street Bridge was used for municipal dumps. A 1956 Rochester City Hall memo indicated that 434 truckloads of trash had been dumped there in a single week. Two-thirds of that trash was being deposited by suburban waste haulers, who shared the dumping ground with the city. Controls on such dumps were notoriously lax, and while they were supposed to be used only for household refuse, some industrial waste likely found its way into the mix. Ash, concrete, sewage sludge from an Irondequoit sewage treatment plant at the dump's edge and lead-based paint scraped from the old bridge also were buried there. Later exploration found trash up to 26 feet deep. Illegal dumpers knew the area, too. Residents near an open field south of Pattonwood complained in the early 1960s about uncontrolled dumping there. North of Pattonwood, dozens of barrels and cans of hazardous waste were discovered dumped along railroad tracks in 1982. The city surrendered its dump permit in 1958, but private trash haulers serving Irondequoit assumed operation of the dump, which then was north of Pattonwood. Home construction had begun just east of the dump by the late 1950s, and there is no record in town or county subdivision files that the presence of the dump was even discussed. But the people who moved into those homes began to complain. "It was stinky. You couldn't sit out here when there was a west wind," recalled John DeLario, who headed the Timrod Drive neighborhood group that urged closure of the dump. DeLario, 92, moved away in 1987 and now lives in Greece. "The rats were as big as cats. You threw a rock or something, you'd see those beasts run out of there," he said. Agitation by DeLario and his neighbors came to a head in a hot, smelly stretch of weather in the late summer of 1964, and the Town Board voted to close the dump the following July. That's when the dump officially closed — though aerial photographs analyzed by the Monroe County Health Department suggest that dumping continued in the area, and the final boundaries of the landfill remain uncertain. What is certain is that not just Timrod was affected. The Stutson Bridge Plaza and the western end of the Wisteria subdivision sit above the dumping ground south of Pattonwood, according to maps and studies by environmental agencies. By the late 1970s, the dump had been cataloged by environmental and health officials looking for the next Love Canal, and one county expert observed in a 1978 memo that homes and businesses had been built near a dump that he said could contain "almost anything." Activity to nowhere But the site never became a priority — quite the opposite — in the state's view. The state Department of Environmental Conservation placed what it called the former Rochester landfill on its registry of inactive hazardous waste sites in 1980. That began years of activity that led nowhere. Between 1983 and 1992, at least four studies were done at the dump site for the DEC and other parties. To varying degrees, each found the same thing — lots of buried trash and some soil and groundwater contamination by petroleum-related products and toxic chemicals such as

polychlorinated biphenyls, plus harmful metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury. The area is served by piped-in public drinking water, so groundwater contamination is an environmental but not a public health issue. The contaminants weren't everywhere, and their concentrations were modest compared with what can be found at former industrial sites, but the readings exceeded state groundwater or soil standards in many cases. Consultants for the DEC and state Health Department, noting settling, possible chemical seepage into basements and the apparent presence of buried metal objects nearby, urged more study to ensure Timrod Drive homes were safe. But instead of commissioning more work to explore the threat to Timrod Drive, the DEC removed the old dump from its waste-site registry in early 1994, making it ineligible for further study-financed work. The agency overrode objections from both the state and Monroe County health departments, the latter of which specifically cited concerns about homes on Timrod Drive. The DEC's reason: While there were hazardous materials mingled with the household trash at Pattonwood, there was no evidence of the kind of industrial waste disposal that made sites eligible for state funding. A loophole in the state's 1982 Superfund law allowed the DEC to wash its hands of sites that lacked proof of industrial wastes. By the mid-1990s, as cleanup funding grew tight, the agency barred or removed hundreds of these so-called "orphan sites" from its statewide cleanup registry. Because it had removed the Pattonwood site from its registry, the DEC did none of the follow-up work, said agency spokeswoman Maureen Wren. To placate local officials, the old Pattonwood dump was placed on a DEC list of orphan sites, some of which eventually got further study, including checks to see whether harmful vapors were affecting nearby buildings. But none of that work was done at Pattonwood, Wren said. Mounting concerns It is unclear what health concerns the site may pose, if any. In 1998, the dump resurfaced in a study by the state Health Department that examined cancer rates among residents near 38 old landfills around the state. The study found that women living near the dumps were four times more likely than others to be diagnosed with bladder cancer or leukemia. The dumps were lumped together in the study to increase the statistical validity of the work, and researchers cautioned that the results couldn't necessarily be applied to any one landfill. Still, the findings underlined concerns that toxic vapors released by wastes in old dumps could collect in the basements of nearby homes. Pattonwood was one of the few study sites where a system hadn't been installed to collect methane and other gases. It still does not have one. The study's authors recommended that homes around the unprotected dumps be tested for the presence of chemical vapors, and such work was done at some locations, said state Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond. But it was never done at Pattonwood. Wisteria Lane, a Y-shaped street of 17 homes south of Timrod, was built beginning in the late 1980s at the southeastern edge of the dump. Concern arose when two barrels containing hazardous wastes were found during excavation at the west end of the street in 1988. County health officials, who must approve new subdivisions, temporarily barred the developer from building on five lots there, but relented and let work proceed if certain conditions were honored. Among them: The developer had to monitor for methane during basement excavation and, if it was found, install a ventilation system on the home. Buyers had to be informed of site conditions, with the information also included in property deeds so future buyers would know. But the county Health Department never verified that the developer abided by the rules. "While we set

the conditions, it would not be practical for us to monitor that going forward," said spokesman John Ricci. Carolyn Mabb, whose home was covered by the special conditions, said she and her husband were informed of the site's history before their home was built 10 years ago. They've had no problems with their Wisteria home, though the family has dug up old clothes and other debris while gardening. "I know where we live. But we have been fortunate to this point," Mabb said. She said the news of methane and trace chemicals at Timrod homes did "put up a red flag." 'No one in any agency' What will happen at the site, if anything, likely hinges on the outcome of the developer's legal case against the state. Since the announcement about Timrod in early October, state and county officials have huddled but concluded they will not get involved. Town Supervisor Heyman said the town was not able to step in, but the state environmental or health agencies should at least provide some guidance and monitoring. "There is no one in any government agency that I've been able to find who's willing to do additional testing. There really is no one for these residents," said Heyman. The state Health Department, which often deals with intrusion of chemical vapors from waste sites, said the levels found by the developers at the Timrod homes were not high enough to merit their attention. Spokesman Hammond said last week that the levels found were "generally consistent" with what could be found in any home. The old dump property is not under the DEC's jurisdiction, said spokeswoman Wren. She was unable to say more because of pending litigation between the agency and Lighthouse Pointe Associates, the group seeking to develop the nearby riverfront property. Lighthouse Pointe has been seeking to build a riverside village of condominiums, townhouses, restaurants and shops on nearly 50 acres of land, including much of the northern portion of the old dump. Charles Morgan, whose late father, Daniel Morgan, conceived the project seven years ago, said the group estimates it would take $6 million to $8 million to clean up the site. Contaminated hot spots would be removed, and structures would be built on piles placed on a solid footing below the fill. Residences would sit atop first-floor open-air garages, further buffering occupants from any vapors, he said. Systems would extract vapors from underground, and the old dump would be capped with clay. "It's not such a contaminated site that it's useless. The technology is there to fix it," Morgan said. "It can be done." But to make it work financially, he said, the group needs access to the DEC's brownfield cleanup program, which provides state tax credits and an indemnification from lawsuits that helps secure financing. Lighthouse Pointe argues that site conditions clearly merit inclusion in the cleanup program. But the developers say DEC officials blocked their entry after Eliot Spitzer became governor in January 2007 and began a push to limit tax credits. The parties have been fighting in court since mid-2007. Lighthouse Pointe conducted the Timrod testing to gather more evidence of contamination in hopes of negotiating a resolution with the DEC. Dave Schroeder, who's lived atop the dump for 28 years, said he hopes that happens — and he hopes state officials step in to help homeowners. "What happens to all the people who were unknowingly living on a dump and now know it?" he asked. "You don't know what's underneath you, you don't know what's going to rear its ugly head, until it happens." SORR@DemocratandChronicle.com

Includes reporting by staff writer Alan Morrell.

The attached garage at Vicki and Dave Schroeder's Timrod Drive home is slowly detaching from the house due to settling. The home sits atop a former landfill in the town of Irondequoit's Pattonwood Drive area that accepted garbage and other waste into the mid-'60s. (SHAWN DOWD staff photographer)
Findings

 Despite official knowledge of the old municipal dumps in northern Irondequoit, homes were built nearby and in some cases atop the landfills. Numerous studies and calls to clean up the site did not result in any action being taken.  On at least two occasions, officials recommended testing to see whether residents faced any health risks, but the testing was never done.  In the mid-1990s, the state delisted hundreds of potential cleanup sites around the state, including Pattonwood, because they lacked proof that industrial waste had been deposited there.  The issues on Timrod Drive resurfaced due to an ongoing legal battle over a proposed riverfront development project.

November 29, 2009

Methane gas in Irondequoit found during legal battle
Alan Morrell Staff writer The methane issue on Timrod Drive was exposed because of a legal battle that has been going on for years involving a proposed $250 million riverfront development project. Developers of the proposed Lighthouse Pointe residential and retail complex have been fighting to get the project into the state brownfield cleanup program, which provides tax credits and other incentives. The state has ruled against the application, and the case has gone through the court system. Alan Knauf, a lawyer representing the developers, said meetings were held this summer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. A top DEC official told the developers that the agency might reconsider its decision if evidence were found that contaminants from the Pattonwood dump could threaten structures above it. That's what led to the testing of two homes on Timrod Drive. Officials from the development firm, Lighthouse Pointe Associates, had approached the owners of six homes that were built on the dump site, but only got permission to test two. The state Court of Appeals is scheduled to review the brownfield application case Jan. 5. Knauf, whose uncle Harold was the Irondequoit supervisor who presided over the Pattonwood dump's closing in 1965, gave the test results to the DEC in October and asked that they reconsider LPA's application. Last week Knauf said he has not heard back. Charles Morgan of LPA said his firm was the first to sue to get into the brownfield program, and said cleanup would cost $6 million to $8 million. Morgan said he already lost the initial funding source for Lighthouse Pointe but has other investors lined up. "This has been ongoing for seven years, without a shovel in the ground," Morgan said. "... I'm still hopeful. This

needs remediation." LPA is fighting in court to be admitted to the program under the rules that existed when it first applied. Knauf said the group would "certainly be receptive" to being allowed into the program under current rules, which provide more support for the cleanup but less financial assistance. The developers would still get the most important aspect, Knauf said — a DEC stamp of approval on their cleanup work and an accompanying waiver of legal liability that would protect Lighthouse Pointe against contamination-related lawsuits. Morgan oversees a firm that his late father, Daniel, had run before he died in 2006. Daniel Morgan ran a lot of projects in Boca Raton, Fla. Lighthouse Pointe, which would include upscale condos, townhouses and restaurants, was his father's vision, Charles Morgan said. But nothing will happen without the brownfield designation, Knauf said. "It's so hypocritical," he said of the DEC's decision. "They're supposed to be protecting the environment and they're fighting to stop the cleanup." Last week, Knauf also filed a notice of intent to sue the state Department of Transportation, claiming that DOT contaminated the property when crews removed paint containing lead from the old Stutson Street Bridge in 1982. The legal filing also claims the DOT violated regulatory requirements by excavating and burying contaminated soil when the Stutson Street Bridge was replaced by the O'Rorke Bridge in 2002. Knauf said the issue came to light while he was preparing records for the Court of Appeals case. Lori Maher, a spokeswoman for the state DOT, said she could not comment on pending legal matters. AMORRELL@DemocratandChronicle.com Includes reporting by staff writer Steve Orr.

Owners awaiting news on methane concerns Alan Morrell Staff writer October 04, 2009 01:56 AM IRONDEQUOIT - Vicki and David Schroeder were not surprised when methane was found beneath their Timrod Drive home. They knew that something wasn't right, because their home, which was built on the edge of a former landfill, is sinking. Vicki Schroeder pointed out a gap of 6 inches or so between the house and the attached garage. But now that methane, a combustible gas, has been found, they and their neighbors are wondering what's next. "It is very unnerving, but we're just in a holding pattern," said Vicki Schroeder. "I thought that they'd find something, but I didn't think it would be this big a thing." Town officials got results Thursday that methane gas has been found beneath two houses on Timrod, including the Schroeders'. Engineers stressed that the levels were low and that the gas has been detected only underground, not in the homes. On Friday, the "what's next" was on many minds, but answers were not readily available. Officials from the state and Monroe County health departments said they will be reviewing the findings. The state Department of Environmental Conservation also is typically involved, said John Ricci of the county health department. "Once the analysis is completed, collectively we can better define what actions, if any, are warranted," he said in an e-mail. Additional testing is about $2,000 per home, according to LaBella Associates, the town's engineering firm. Who will pay for that testing, if it is to be done, remains unclear. Supervisor Mary Ellen Heyman said

she has contacted the DEC and hopes to have more information by next week. Don Scantlin, a Timrod Drive resident whose home has not been tested, said he is not overly concerned, but he wants the neighborhood cleaned up or at least tested. "Could there be a pocket where methane gas is building up?" he wondered. "You don't know what's under there." AMORRELL@DemocratandChronicle.com

by Democrat and Chronicle

Methane gas found beneath two Irondequoit homes
Alan Morrell – Staff writer Local News – October 2, 2009 - 2:00am

WILL YURMAN staff photographer From far right, Margie and Jim Incavo, Rev. Jack Steves and Don Scantlin listen at a meeting Irondequoit town supervisor Mary Ellen Heyman held at the town hall for the families in 62 homes on and around Timrod Drive. Methane gas has been found beneath two Irondequoit homes that were built on a former landfill site, and officials quickly alerted residents Thursday to address concerns. The homes are on Timrod Drive, near the Genesee River on the west side of Irondequoit. Officials from the town‘s engineering firm stressed that the levels were low and that the gas has been detected only underground, not in homes. An official from the Monroe County Health Department also said there was the potential for the gas to seep into homes, but not necessarily explosive levels. The quick solution is simple, they said — cracking a window in the basement for ventilation. Nevertheless, town officials scrambled Thursday to hand-deliver the news to 62 homes, with notes that read ―Urgent/Read Immediately.‖ About 35 residents turned out for a hurried meeting Thursday night at Town Hall. ―I‘m at the other end of the street from the tested homes, and you wouldn‘t think the methane would come down there, but you never know,‖ the Rev. Jack Steves of Timrod Drive said after the meeting. ―My concerns are relieved to hear that they‘re working on it. But why did the town give permits to build those homes on a landfill site? That was an accident waiting to happen.‖ Most of the homes on Timrod were built in the 1960s, said Supervisor Mary Ellen Heyman. Gregory Senecal of LaBella Associates, the town‘s engineering firm, said the news was something to be concerned about, but said the methane likely has been present in the homes for several decades. Methane is a combustible gas that is the principal component in natural gas. Methane is generated by sewage treatment plants and from manure, for example, Senecal said, as a result of matter breaking

down. The gas and 10 to 12 other volatile organic compounds were detected in testing that was done in July and August to determine whether vapors from a former city municipal landfill were threatening homes on Timrod. It was done, indirectly, because of a legal squabble. The nature and extent of contamination at the dump have been at the center of an argument between state officials and the developers of Lighthouse Pointe, a $200 million mixed-use development planned for above the dump. The developers have said the site is seriously contaminated and thus qualifies for the state brownfield cleanup program, which would provide financial aid for site remediation and offer the developers a release from legal liability. State environmental officials, however, said that contamination was minimal and the project did not qualify for the program. This is not the first time such environmental issues have arisen locally. In 2007, environmental officers began testing the air in the basements of homes in western Victor for toxic vapors. Illegally deposited solvents had been in the underground water for decades and were discovered in natural springs in 1990. That discovery forced the village of Victor to stop using the springs for drinking water. Officials at Thursday‘s meeting in Irondequoit said the situation, and possible long-term effects, are much different there. ―Methane is generally nontoxic,‖ said Richard Rote of LaBella Associates. ―What we‘re concerned about is flammability … but the concentrations (at) these two homes were very, very low. Don‘t go home too scared tonight.‖ Engineers for the proposed Lighthouse Pointe project wanted to test six homes on Timrod, but only got permission to test two. Officials said they now expect to get permission from other homeowners for testing, but the question remains about who will pay. The testing is about $2,000, Senecal said. The long-term solution, known as a sub-slab vapordepression system, costs even more, he said. Heyman said she has contacted the state and Monroe County health departments, as well as the state Department of Environmental Conservation, about options for paying for the work. A brownfield designation would help. The ongoing legal haggling will continue when the matter is scheduled to be taken up next year by the state Court of Appeals. A state Supreme Court judge in Monroe County previously sided with the Lighthouse Pointe developers, but appellate judges reversed that decision earlier this year. Alan Knauf, a lawyer for the Lighthouse Pointe developers, said in a telephone interview that the testing was done to disprove the state‘s contention that the levels of contamination at the dump were negligible, and to protect residents. ―Our consultant said, ‗We think there‘s an issue with people living in houses on the landfill. We should find out,‘‖ he said. ―These people should know if they have an unsafe situation.‖ Joseph Albert of the Monroe County Health Department, who was at Thursday‘s meeting, said data have been submitted to the state health department for analysis. Albert said nothing he saw was of immediate concern. ―Obviously, there is more that needs to be done,‖ he said. AMORRELL@DemocratandChronicle.com Includes reporting by staff writer Steve Orr. What is methane? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methane is a greenhouse gas that is emitted from a variety of natural sources, such as wetlands, and human-influenced sources such as landfills. Methane is a combustible gas, and engineers at Thursday‘s meeting stated concerns about possible flammability.

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