As Submitted to the Scranton Times Tribune, January 14, 2018
“An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The phrase is a dressed-up way of saying that simply because something is missing doesn’t mean that something isn’t real. This brings us to the curious case of the empty records regarding the Keystone Landfill.
In 2014, the onset of this generation’s opposition to Keystone Sanitary Landfill’s proposed 44-year, 100-million ton expansion towards the heavens, the Landfill was described as “state of the art”.
There were no mentions of, nor documentation of, groundwater contamination. Or leachate spills. Or underground fires. Or depressed property values. Or odors. Or health concerns. Perhaps these concerns were over-blown? After all, we have the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to rely on. It regulates the Landfill and surely, it has our back.
The DEP’s stated Mission is, “to protect Pennsylvania’s air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment.” Except, when it comes to this Landfill, it has not.
In late 2017, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) analyzed the process DEP has used over time with this landfill. It found that, “The record does not demonstrate that it [Pennsylvania DEP] has consistently exercised vigorous oversight of the landfill consistent with its regulatory and constitutional responsibilities with just as much concern about the rights of the landfill’s neighbors as the rights of the landfill.”
Since birth, this Landfill has had an insatiable appetite. When initially asked why it needs to expand for over 40 years at a public meeting, a Landfill representative quipped, “because we couldn’t fit 100 years”. And for each request to grow over the past 30 years, the State would follow the same pattern. Read landfill proposal. Consult the landfill’s “record.” Record clean. Growth approved. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. That is how a Landfill grows from accepting 500 tons of trash per day to over 7,000 tons per day. That’s how a local town dump becomes one of the largest landfills in the country. That’s how our Region has become dominated by garbage.
Fortunately, in our quest to create a record and stop this Landfill’s growth, we were not the only group to recognize the failures in this process. The EHB found that “the biggest deficiency with the Department’s review [of Keystone’s compliance history] was that it relied almost entirely on recorded violations, yet the Department almost never records any violations at Keystone, even if they undeniably occurred” which “essentially guarantees that the permittee will pass the formal compliance history review with flying colors.”
The process is broken. The oversight is lax. But is there a record? Are there actual harms associated with this landfill’s growth? Can we create the heretofore missing record? Yes
Day by day, since 2014, we have established, on the record, that the Landfill has been responsible for groundwater contamination for over 14 consecutive years. Underground fires have been confirmed. Leachate spills have been recorded multiple times over the past year. Property values, by KSL’s own analysis, are depressed closer to the landfill. Lagoons designed to contain garbage juice, leak. The regional aesthetic will be forever degraded. Toxic chemicals are being released into the air.
Perhaps most importantly, prior to Friends of Lackawanna’s involvement, there were no records relating to the impact this Landfill has on the health of the region. We requested health studies commence to establish both a baseline and a record. Preliminary findings were released in December, 2017. Fortunately, one of the findings was that it is unlikely that the chemicals around the landfill are likely to cause cancer. However, “cancer causing chemicals” is not the threshold for safety. Sadly, the report also found that exposure to the chemicals and particulates in and around the landfill could cause other negative health problems especially for those most in need of protection - our children, our elderly, pregnant women and medically fragile residents. This is an unacceptable risk.
To get an expansion, KSL must prove, and the DEP must agree, that the benefits to the expansion clearly outweigh both the known and potential harms of this project. At this point, the only benefit KSL has to offer is money. Conversely, the harms are real, documented and now, on the record. And this record, already substantial, was created by a grassroots, volunteer based, non-profit organization. Logic and common sense dictate that if this landfill grows, and more rocks are looked under, these known and potential harms will only grow side by side with the mountain of trash.
For the past four years, Friends of Lackawanna has worked tirelessly on behalf of the community. We have documented the harms. We have done the work. We have developed the missing record. With all that is now known, if the DEP approves this expansion, the message is clear: the people and future of Northeastern Pennsylvania are worth less than a pile of garbage.